Negative self-talk presents a major obstacle to getting a body and life you love. It negatively impacts your happiness and your relationships. It puts a ceiling on the success you can achieve in life. And it can also be a trigger for emotional eating. Here’s how to stop negative self-talk and the anxiety it produces.
The first thing you must understand about self-talk is that the entire concept is flawed.
For the most part, when people bring up negative “self-talk” they’re misattributing the issue while the real problem goes unchallenged.
No, I’m not discounting your experiences. I know you firmly believe that you struggle with negative “self-talk.” In fact, you’ve been told that’s what it is for a very long time.
You haven’t experienced negative self-talk, though. At least, not in the way you think you have.
And if you continue to think about “self-talk” the same way you’ve been thinking about it, you’re unlikely to ever find a resolution. So, let’s liberate you, shall we?
The Negative Self-Talk Myth.
When I say that negative self-talk is a myth, I’m not suggesting that negative, destructive messages don’t run through your head.
I’m not suggesting that you never doubt yourself. I’m not suggesting that your self-esteem is completely topped off. Your struggles in these areas are very real.
The fairy tale is that these messages, these doubts, and these self-esteem deficiencies come from your Self.
Yes, it’s called “self-talk.” But these ideas and messages don’t originate inside you. You’re harboring them, yes, but you had nothing to do with putting them there.
So where did they come from?
Parents. Relatives. Teachers. Caregivers. Media. Entertainment. CULTure.
These challenges you face are the result of specific destructive inputs and experiences. From the day you were born until now, you’ve been subject to destructive inputs by other human beings who were themselves subjected to destructive inputs. And your personality—your psyche—had to create defenders to protect your psychological wellbeing.
The negative messages you hear come primarily from two places:
- The recorded voices of those you depended on throughout your life.
- The psychological defenders that were created along the way to deal with these experiences.
As a very basic example, let’s say that your grandmother told you many times when you were younger that you were “pudgy.” And now, when you look in the mirror you think, “You’re pudgy.” Are we really going to call that “self-talk?”
That’s not self-talk, that’s “other-talk.” Programmed messaging.
Most Negative Self-Talk is Negative “Other-Talk.”
What’s born from being subjected to destructive messaging is a collection of defender parts of your personality.
A defender might want to protect you from experiencing more shame and ridicule because it knows how awful those experiences have been in the past. So when you think about doing something adventurous, like joining your daughter in her martial arts class, the defender sends an alert.
It can’t just be an alert, though. An alert might not protect you. No, it needs to be more persuasive than that. So the alert comes in the form of negative messaging.
“No, don’t do that. You’re kinda pudgy. You’re going to get laughed at. You’re going to be a total embarrassment. And what will you look like in that white uniform? That’s not for you. Who do you think you are?”
We’re going to call that “self-talk?”
That’s “self-defense talk!”
This isn’t semantics. This is the difference between empowering yourself and being forever broken. Because this idea of you sabotaging yourself with these beliefs and phrases points to some sort of malfunction of Self.
You Are Not Malfunctioning.
We tend to view negative self-talk as a bad thing. And because we see it as a bad thing, we wonder why we have it. Why is it there? Am I broken? Am I deficient? Am I malfunctioning?
Maybe that’s what society wants you to believe—that you’re malfunctioning. Because if it’s you, it’s not them.
But you’re not malfunctioning. CULTure is malfunctioning. And it’s been malfunctioning since the day you were born. I’ve talked at length about the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences, Shame, Guilt, Fear, Addiction, Authoritarianism, Obedience, Involuntary Schooling, Adult-Child Bullying, Conditional Love, Statism, and the list goes on.
This systematic dysfunction is not your fault. The toxic beliefs are not your fault. The
self-talk other-talk is not your fault.
When you understand that almost all of your negative self-talk is really “other-talk,” everything starts to make sense. You’re not malfunctioning, you’re highly functioning. These parts of you are trying to defend you against experiencing more negative experiences.
Sure, the end result is that they often create negative outcomes. They hold you back. But that’s only because they can’t see what you see—that they’re no longer needed.
Stop fleeing, following, and fighting.
Most people have three primary responses to negative talk and toxic beliefs:
- Flee. It enters your head and you interpret it as an awful, uncomfortable thing you must flee from. You might distract yourself or medicate it away. The bottom line is that you want nothing to do with it.
- Follow. It enters your head and you agree with it. It might feel yucky, but you buy the narrative hook, line, and sinker. Your actions follow the fairy tale word for word.
- Fight. It enters your head and becomes a sworn enemy. You project a hardened mindset at it and aim to crush it like a cockroach.
If you want to stop negative self-talk and toxic beliefs and the anxiety they produce, you must choose the fourth “F” — Feel.
Move closer to the negative talk and work to understand where it’s coming from and why it exists. Pinpoint the moment in time that it served you well and compare then to now. Does it still serve you or is it just fear that you haven’t moved on from?
If it no longer serves you, apply the fifth and final “F.” Free it. Let it go. You don’t need to harbor it any longer.
Easier said than done? Always. That’s why it’s important to have guidance and coaching. But this is the process I’ve used to help thousands of men and women around the world stop patterns of negative talk, end the anxiety that comes with it, and break through barriers that existed because of it.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s worked with thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and programs like Shut Down Your Sugar Cravings.