Not today, Debbie

“You are not good enough.” “Why do you think you are qualified for that job?”  How often does your self-talk sound like this? We all have an internal narrative going on, and it is often negative and critical of ourselves.

Over the five months I spent with Life Coach Extraordinaire Andrea Owen, I learned a lot about the inner critic and how destructive it can be. Spoiler alert: once I changed my internal narrative and transformed my self-talk from negative from positive, it was a game changer for me!

What is self-talk?

We all have an internal narrative going on all the time. Many of the things we believe and tell ourselves are based on things from our childhood or family of origin or are based on our past experience. These stories have been in our brains for a long time, which makes it hard to change them.

What does it sound like?

Our negative talk can sometimes be practical or realistic- in these instances, your self-talk is tied to a past experience or the self-talk sounds rational. Like “gosh, that meeting did not go well, ugh I am so unprofessional and bad.” It may sound practical, but likely isn’t realistic or rooted in truth. I used to believe I was bad at relationships based on past experiences. Again, it was rooted in past information, but it doesn’t actually make any sense, and it doesn’t create success for the future. It can also present as a fantasy that allows us to create stories (which we talked about in May). This may sound like “I am going to fail this test, and I am going to drop out of school and will never get a job.” Not only is this likely unrealistic, but it is also pretty extreme and we have a good amount of control over what will happen between now and what will happen that far in the future. Finally, our inner critic can just sound mean and harsh. “You are overweight and how would anyone love you.” It can sound mean and be very painful.  

Why is this bad?

Why is negative self-talk even a bad thing? In a nutshell, it can mess up our view of ourselves and how we show up in the world. Negative self-talk and being critical of ourselves can decrease our self-esteem and confidence, increase our level of stress (which can also increase our cortisol which is linked to weight gain), limits our thinking, impacts our ability to make decisions and can negatively impact our relationships. Not. Good.

What in the world to do about it?

First, it’s important to know that the goal is to manage our inner critic because it won’t fully go away. Even people who have been doing this work for years (i.e. Andrea Owen and Brene Brown), still deal with the inner critic. While it will still pop up, it can be easier to manage over time.

Start to understand what your triggers are and what your negative self-talk sounds like. So for me, my self-talk shows up around work and romantic relationships. I beat myself up about how I show up professionally (and feel like I have to be perfect), and I feel like I am bad at relationships which negatively impacts how I show up in relationships (quite the cycle).

After that, there are a variety of things you can do including changing the narrative and trying to rewrite the story. This is the one I try to do. So instead of saying I am bad at relationships, I say that I have a history of being in relationships with men who are not a good fit for me. You can also write down the thoughts- this allows you to see them as they are and, hopefully, detach yourself from them. You can stop them in their tracks and basically say no to your thoughts. As an extension of that, you can give it a nickname (Debbie Downer is a fun one). When the thoughts show up, you can say "Not today Debbie, you’ve got to go.” You can talk to a friend and share your story with them.

Regardless of what you do, please remember to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. This is HUGE! Talk to yourself like you would talk to a loved one (and like you would expect a loved one to talk to you). This is a critical step.

Finally, remember that this is a practice. You will have to practice positive, affirming self-talk and be okay if it doesn’t change immediately, keep at it. For me, knowing that it is a practice relieves me from the pressure of having to keep working on self-talk. It is quite reassuring.