Some people describe themselves as having low self esteem – so that their predominant sense of self is about not feeling good about themselves. Generally this negative sense of self is perpetuated with self talk that criticises us, puts us down or dismisses us, e.g. “I’m no good at art”, “my friends always let me down”, “I always seem to fail no matter how hard I try,” “I’m too intense that’s why I can’t find a partner.” Do you resonate with any of these? Perhaps you have your own. Underneath the self talk there are, of course, a set of limiting beliefs or negative attitudes that come together to make a story about our identity, who we are in the world. This may have started by something that we experienced in our history but over the years they are cultured as ‘truths’ that we wrap our identity around. Mostly they arise in our thinking and speech unconsciously. Before we know it we are verbalising or thinking something that puts us down or diminishes us. Our own deeper essence, of course, is far greater than any stories.
How do we change our negative self talk?
The first step is to catch what we’re thinking about ourself by standing back a little, taking a meta position in order to watch and see what we’re creating with our thoughts. When we start to do this a little we make space for presence to arise. When we are able to catch and observe what we’re thinking we are making our thinking more conscious. And from here, we have the possibility of consciously choosing to change our thoughts.
The next step is to start challenging the negative self talk. Initially it might be simply to stop the thought in it’s tracks. Being a “thought hunter” on safari, poised to catch any creepy crawleys lurking in the bushes. Noticing situations where those thoughts might come up, the environment in which they may start to make their presence felt. Catching a thought and shining a spot light on it! An, “Ah Ha! I’m not going to let you go there!” Metaphorically pushing the thought out the door, or challenging it with a counter thought.
Where is Your Negative Self Talk Lurking?
One of the places that my negative self talk would appear for me was in social situations that required walking into a room full of people I didn’t know, like a party or a conference. I still feel a little nervous but not nearly as bad as the anxiety I felt in the past. This has slowly changed through catching the self talk and consistently challenging the beliefs embedded in it. Some of the negative self talk was: “no one will like you,” “people won’t be interested in you,” “you don’t have anything important to say.’
Rationally thinking, this is totally unfounded and untrue. Or perhaps, at least it’s not 100% true. There may be people who may not like me, but there may equally be people who would like me and would find me interesting. Taking my focus off the possibility of not being liked and putting my energy and attention on what is positive, where I may find a smiling face or a hello and allowing that to grow.
And, something I didn’t think about because I was too busy putting myself down was that it works the other way too. It is equally true that there may be people at the party I may not like for find interesting. Just as there would probably be people that I would. That is part of being human and authentic. We may need to get help with challenging our thoughts. Sometimes we can have blindspots around our self talk, especially if we haven’t had any modelling of how to challenge this in our growing up. That’s when it’s useful to have someone we trust, someone who really cares about us and is skilled to help us challenge our thinking. This could be a good friend, a partner or a counsellor or coach.
Finding the Tools that Help You
There are lots of tools and practical things we can do to change or challenge our thoughts and start feeling better about ourselves. These can be through a myriad of self help books, workshops, affirmations, visualisation. Meditation is a great tool in working with mindfulness, connecting to presence and developing a meta position around our thoughts. Bringing our attention to what we’re noticing and not attaching to anything in particular. From a meta position we could say there’s no fail or success it’s just the great unfolding of life that we are all part of and learning through. It simply is, what it is.
Going for an Immediate Positive Effect
So to conclude, my friends: I suggest that the most effective and immediate practice around negative self talk is to simply notice the thought. Notice what it is you’re noticing. That in that moment I may have identified with a particular thought. I may have mistakenly thought the thought was all of me, but it is simply part of me and even a small part of me. It’s made up in my mind and I can exercise choice around whether I want to believe it or simply watch it, acknowledge it’s there, but not buy into it. It’s been part of the story I’ve carried about myself but isn’t my essence. My essence, is in fact far greater than any of the thoughts or stories I create through my mind. Furthermore, it is good to remember that we are such creative beings. We can start to impress on the mind, new and consistently more positive messages that reinforce a sense of self that is healthier, joyful and wholisitc. Research has found that doing this consistently for 21 days creates new more positive neurologically pathways in our brains.
“As Presence arises, you don’t need self-esteem anymore, you don’t depend on that any more, because what dissolves is the mind-made-entity, with which you have a relationship.” Eckhart Tolle