It’s yourself you’re talking to.
One day, you get a call from your best friend, John.
– I failed my exam. I studied so hard, for a whole month, and I still failed, with a terrible grade. I must be some special kind of stupid.
– Yes, you are. You’re the dumbest person I ever met, and you deserve to fail.
Would you say that to your friend?
Even if you truly believed it, would you say it?
You would be much kinder than that. You would remind John that everybody fails, and this exam is not a reflection of his self-worth. You would tell him there is always a next try, and he will do better then. You would remind him of all the other great feats he already achieved. And you would offer John some company to take his mind out of it because he deserves to feel good, despite everything.
What if you failed the same exam?
What would you think?
Probably, you would think…
I am the dumbest person I ever met. I must be some special kind of stupid.
And what would your inner voice say back to you?
Would it remind you that everyone fails? That you will do better next time? That you already achieved great feats and will achieve more in the future?
Or would it agree with you and say “You worked so hard and still failed. Indeed, you are really dumb”?
Negative Self-Talk vs Positive Self-Talk
Why would you be kind to your friend but hard on yourself? Why do you accept other people’s flaws but not your own? Why is your inner voice your enemy instead of your friend?
According to Psychology Today…
“This internal chatter can be cheerful and supportive or negative and self-defeating. This voice is useful when it is positive, talking down fears and bolstering confidence. Human nature is prone to negative self-talk, however, and to sweeping assertions like “I can’t do anything right” or “I’m a complete failure.”
Dr. Gregory Jantz, psychologist and depression specialist, states that “our brains are hardwired to remember negative experiences over positive ones, so we recall the times we didn’t quite get it right more than the times we do. We then replay these messages in our minds, fuelling negative feelings”.
Psychology explains that this inner voice is formed from a young age, based on the experiences we go through, especially in relation to our primary caretakers, but also in our interaction with peers and other adults.
Put simply, this inner voice is formed naturally, without us having much control over it. It grows over time, and it shapes us more than we would like to admit.
Negative Self-Talk is… Well, Negative
The problem with negative self-talk is that it can damage us is many ways. A 2013 study shows that blaming ourselves for negative happenings in our lives can lead to an increased risk of mental health problems.
“Those who find themselves frequently engaging in negative self-talk tend to be more stressed. This is in large part due to the fact that their reality is altered to create an experience where they don’t have the ability to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves.”
There are ways in which you can rewire your brain into positivity. You can shift from a negative self-talk attitude by default to a positive one, and you can do it in many ways because different methods work differently with different people. However, this is a long-term game. For a more short-term solution, you can focus on something else: coping self-talk.
Coping self-talk makes use of coping statements: positive statements that are used to replace the negative ones that pop into your head when you feel worried, stressed, or anxious.
Depending on your specific situation, you might tell/ask yourself some of the following items:
- What exactly am I worrying about?
- Don’t assume the worst will happen.
- I will be able to handle it if it does happen.
- This will not last forever.
- I have already overcome something similar.
- Am I looking at worst-case scenarios?
- Can I change this or is it better for me if I accept it?
You can create your own list with many more statements, that address specifically the feelings you have.
Talk To Your Friend Who Failed the Exam
Remember John, your friend from above, the one who failed the exam?
If the coping statements do not work (or even if they do, but you would like to do something extra), try talking over the problem as if you were your friend.
Tell your problems out loud, pretending you are John. And then be yourself and reply to John the same way you would if he was really there. Avoid the first impulses and the negative thoughts that immediately flood your mind. You wouldn’t tell them to John, would you?
Then take a moment, think about it, and reply on a positive note. I am sure you understand his problems and know exactly how he feels. And I am sure you can find some wisdom and motivation to share with him. You will not be rude, negative, or defeated. John doesn’t deserve it. And neither do you.