Self-talk is what psychologists refer to as the continual mental dialog you have with yourself. It can serve many purposes. It helps to release stress, evaluate potential threats, solve problems, make decisions, form objective judgments, generate positive emotions and behaviors, and construct and reinforce realistic self-beliefs. Simply stated, sometimes talking to yourself (either silently or out loud) can help you work things out.
“The most influential and frequent voice you hear is your inner-voice. It can work in your favor or against you, depending on what you listen to and act upon.” –Maddy Malhotra
Unfortunately, for many people, their self-talk is fueled by the internal voice of a brutal critic or what psychologist Eugene Sagan calls the pathological critic – the negative inner voice that attacks and judges you. It might sound like your own voice or your mother, father or other influential person in your life. It’s a voice you are so familiar with that you hardly even notice or question it, and consequently find it to be very believable. It sounds completely true when the voice says how inadequate, weak, stupid or unlucky you are.
You can tell your pathological critic is in control when you…
– frequently blame yourself when things go wrong.
– overly emphasize what you “should” or “shouldn’t” do.
– compare yourself to others.
– worry and dwell on “what if” questions.
– set impossible standards for yourself.
– are quick to strongly defend or shut down when given negative feedback.
– frequently criticize others.
– are quick to judge others’ actions as offensive.
– engage in approval-seeking behaviors.
– dwell on your failures and weaknesses.
– call yourself names such as “ugly”, “stupid”, “failure”, and “selfish”.
– believe you can mind-read and are convinced that others find you boring or disgusting.
Unfortunately, being exposed to a daily dose of these and many other destructive messages will severely erode your joy and confidence.
Remember, however, that not every negative “voice” comes from a pathological critic. Negative self-evaluations can be very useful, especially when we think, say, and do things that reflect a lack of integrity, self-control, effort, conscientiousness or consideration. We all need to have an internal monitoring and feedback system (conscience) to help us keep our lives and relationships headed in a healthy direction. The key is to make sure your system is as healthy, impartial and realistic as possible. A pathological critic is one-sided – it only serves to condemn, feed self-doubt, and punish.
How do you silence negative self-talk?
When you have realized that what you’re hearing is not a legitimate matter of conscience, stop and think about what the “voice” is saying to you. Take the time to identify what thoughts or experiences are triggering the harsh criticism and reframe them in the context of reality. We all fail, make mistakes, and lose sometimes. But failing doesn’t make you a permanent failure. Losing isn’t a life sentence – hopefully it is a motivation to prepare better and try again.
Many people have grown up with families that never knew how to express value or appreciation. You may have grown up hearing criticism that was never balanced with praise or encouragement. That is a difficult challenge to overcome, but you can refute negative voices with positive truth. You are a one-of-a-kind package of talents, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. You aren’t good at everything, but you are good at something. Find that “something” and work hard to do it well.
Here’s a key principle: The degree to which your self-talk is realistic, positive, and balanced is the degree to which it will help you build and maintain a healthy self-esteem. Your self-esteem will affect your relationships, attitude and success.
When the pathological critic tries to bring you down, don’t listen. Keep your mind and heart open to the reality of truth, which is saying, “You are valuable!”
Live, Work & Relate Well!
Dr. Linaman is a psychologist and executive coach providing counseling and professional development services to individuals, couples, work teams and organizations.