STEP FOUR: Now we know how the negative self-talk started (see Part One ), so how do we stop it? Here are a number of different ways to approach it, some of them will work and others may not seem relevant to your particular situation.
SayNO. Once you become aware of your negative self-talk, choose to stop it. Say ‘No’, or ‘Stop’, or ‘Cancel’ to those negative thoughts. Do not allow yourself to make fun of your self or body or actions or appearance to yourself or other people. It is especially harmful to speak negatively about yourself to your children. You are passing down a legacy of low self-esteem that you do not want them to have and neither of you deserve. Be Supportive, not condemning. Go easy on yourself when something is challenging or frustrating. Instead of calling yourself names like ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’, tell yourself, ‘this is difficult but I will keep trying and see if I can manage it. If I can’t, well, I’m glad I tried’. Take the same loving care you would with a child who is struggling to learn something new.
It is very important to practice positive thinking and to remind yourself that you are a worthwhile person, no matter what. Life is a learning experience. We learn one thing and the next lesson is waiting there for us. Some things we will never figure out. It’s the same with children: when children do something we don’t like, we label the action, not the child. We cannot look at ourselves as bad or good people. Things we do might have less than desirable results, but our essential selves are beyond the realm of good or bad.
Acknowledge that you are making positive changes to improve your life. Be proud of yourself. Visualize yourself as capable, happy, and confident. These positive feelings will help the process of change. Remember, there are bound to be times when you're feeling frustrated or depressed. Know that these feelings are valid, and don't try to ignore them. Instead, acknowledge and try to understand them, but they don't blame yourself for the conditions that lead to these feelings. Some of us have a tendency to overeat in response to uncomfortable feelings. If we stay in touch with our natural hunger cues, we know that overeating doesn’t make our bodies feel good and doesn’t make our feelings go away. We can face our feelings without punishing ourselves.
Treat yourself like a beloved friend. If a friend was feeling down in the dumps, or fat or ugly or stupid, how would you treat them? Name calling? No way! You’d listen to their woes, offer reassurance and compassion and support. You’d have tears for their sorrows and words of comfort. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot give this same love and respect to yourself. If you have friends who dwell in the ‘poor me’ syndrome, or leave you feeling unhappy or unloved, consider letting go of the relationship. You may have been attracted to this friendship initially because it repeated the pattern of belittling yourself. Life is too short for this kind of pain. As you begin to respect yourself more, it will become unacceptable to be ill-treated by other people.
Acknowledge the things you do well. If you’re a loving mom, tell yourself so. If you’re a loyal and trustworthy friend, commend yourself. What are your talents? Are you intuitive, artistic, humorous, creative, compassionate, friendly, patient, truthful, intellectual, kind, trustworthy, observant? If you want to, make a list of every good quality you know about yourself, no matter how shallow or ego-centric it seems. Allow yourself you feel good about you. The negative self-talk originated from other people who were speaking from their own wounds and passed it on to you. You know you are worthy of love and praise. You’ve probably spent a lot of time and energy trying to get it from other people. Now it’s time to give it to yourself.
On the flip side, you may have hidden your self behind pride. Some of us are so afraid of being vulnerable or imperfect that we overachieve at the expense of our own happiness. We’d do anything for anyone else before we’d consider our own needs. We may be able to rattle off a list of our good qualities and achievements, but deep down we feel like frauds who may be found out at any time. This could have originated from someone telling you you were not worthy of what you had as a child. See if you have the courage to start letting go of this protective pride and allowing yourself to be more vulnerable with those you love. Allow yourself to be fully human and completely loved.
Trust a friend. Do you have a dear friend who really cares for you? Tell her what you’re condemning yourself about (I’m such a fat pig: I gained 8 pounds on our vacation! I just hate myself!). Ask her what she thinks about this. Listen to her words of compassion for you. Have the courage to let go of your negativity and begin to accept her view of you through caring eyes. The kind words of a friend are excellent examples of the positive self-talk you want to have.
Clean up your personal environment. Look at the negative influences in your life: this could be negative friends, family, or routines. Our mind takes in everything that happens around us. Our subconscious mind reacts to the most dominant thoughts we process. If we are constantly surrounded with negativity, our thoughts will become negative and so will our actions and habits.
Have you created a life for yourself where you are surrounded by other people who speak negatively to you or perpetuate your self-criticisms? They have to stop too. It may be as simple as asking them to stop or as complicated as going to couples counseling with your spouse. Basically you know you can’t take it anymore. You’re worth more than that. You’re not the low-life someone from your past said you were. You’re not going to live or feel that way anymore.
Watch our for negative labels. Negative labels are the tools we use to lower self-esteem in ourselves and others. Example: "I'm stupid," or "I'm fat." When we say phrases like these often, they become a part of our identity and we can begin to dislike who we are. Instead, remember, people are not their faults or shortcomings. You may engage in stupid behavior occasionally, but that doesn't make you a stupid person. Change your negative "I-am" statement into a statement about behaviors. Example: “I am bad when I eat a gallon of rocky road ice-cream,” becomes "Sometimes I make unhealthy choices when it comes to food." It's easier to change a behavior, than to change your identity.
Allow yourself to make mistakes without punishment. With anything you take on, tell yourself you’ll allow two dozen (yes, 24) mistakes before you are allowed to get frustrated. And when you do get disgruntled, bring your sense of humor with you. So you goofed up, so what? Go easy on yourself. You’ve heard it said before: the difference between success and failure is allowing oneself to make mistakes and carry on. Don’t give up. Instead of punishing yourself, see obstacles as challenges and unexpected outcomes as learning experiences.
Let yourself be unprepared. So what if you’re forgetful. So you’re not dressed like everyone else or using the same stairmaster. So what if your house isn’t clean or tidy. Certainly the love within the house is what matters. Hang up a sign at the door: excuse the mess: we live here.
Try making yourself number one on the list and focus on what’s important. Do you put your spouse or children first without ever giving yourself the same respect? Do you buy them new clothing but continue wearing your old faithfuls?
Figure out what’s really important in your life. So you have some cellulite on your legs or your tummy is big. Does this really merit so much of your attention? Does that ultimately affect what kind of person you are to yourself and those you love? Or are you using this superficial stuff as an excuse not to fully live your life?
Do you dress for a body type other than your own? Do you wear clothes that are too big or too small? There’s two steps to take here. First, you deserve clothes that fit properly. Wearing ill-fitting clothes is a form of punishment. When you find yourself criticizing your size or appearance, STOP. Replace the thought with something positive, or distract yourself by doing something you enjoy.
This negative self-talk:
‘My stomach is so fat it disgusts me.’ becomes ‘It’s nice to wear jeans that fit me properly and I can move comfortably in. And boy, I’m having a good hair day!’
Trust the power of experience. Looking back on your life, you can’t help but notice that it is the struggles, challenges, and conflicts that make us stronger and better people. And we are survivors. Acknowledge the difficult times you have experienced. Look at the strength, courage, and endurance you have shown. Instead of dwelling on the negative side of problems, ask yourself how you would like a situation to be different and what you have the power to change.
Expecting the worst does not encourage you to behave effectively. Expecting the worst only promotes anxiety. Instead: Ask questions that presuppose positive outcomes. "How can I make this a worthwhile experience?" "How can I dress so I will feel comfortable and attractive?"