Saturday, November 25, 2006

Negative Self Talk and a New Question of the Week (#16)

What an amazing response I received to last week's question about negative self talk. There were several great insights into how our inner voices tend to affect us, and quite a number of people opened up and admitted this is an area where they struggle.

Here is what Mark had to say:

The voice that runs 24/7 in your head is very powerful. I once read a quote that went something like this - "If you were sitting across the table having lunch with the voice in your head, how long would you put up with what that voice was saying?" For most the answer is, not very long.

That's true. The challenge is that we can physically stand up and walk away from a table, but that won't make the inner voice go away, or even diminish its influence.

Walker wrote about a life strategy he has seen people employ:

It’s easier to fail than succeed, so accepting failure beforehand reinforces what you believed from the start. If you know you are going to fail, why try?

Consider a man who dates only married women. This guy's inner voice has convinced him he is certain to fail in any relationship, so what does he do? He gets involved only in relationships that are sure to fail because of other factors. When he and one of the married women call it quits, he doesn't have to face the notion that it was because of some failing on his part. He can tell himself, "It was never going to work anyway." The tragic consequence is that he denies himself any chance of finding a happy relationship.

Many of us do the same thing in various ways. Perhaps you are convinced that others judge you because you are a woman, or a visible minority, or too fat, or too skinny, or have too many pimples, or don't have enough money, or ... pick your poison. So you enter social situations with a chip on your shoulder, expecting to be treated badly. Others are likely to sense your hostility and react negatively, at which point you say to yourself, "See? I knew they would judge me."

Once we give in to feelings of poor self-worth, they typically cause a variety of other problems. Melli wrote about just such a situation:

Self doubt was a huge issue for me when I was young - especially in my teen years. Since I didn't have anyone at home telling me I was wonderful, it really was huge! Once I moved out and was on my own though -- away from non-supportive family - and out of high school away from the "catty" girls who feast on those with no self-value -- I started realizing that I was pretty enough - and plenty of fun! But it probably took me until I was about 25/26 to finally "get" it -- to accept that I'm okay just the way I am and (and I think most important) that it was okay for some people not to like me.

However I do still occasionally walk into a room full of people I know and think "None of them want to talk to me." On very rare occasions it can still get me bad enough that I'll do the wall flower thing. When this happens, nobody thinks I'm feeling shy or uncomfortable -- they automatically think I'm being "standoffish." I'm generally outgoing and happy, so when a "moment" hits me, no one suspects I might be feeling insecure!

The next time you encounter someone who acts aloof or even aggressive, ask yourself if they might be doing so because they feel threatened. It happens more frequently than you might think.

Here is another example of someone who listens to their negative inner voice, from Shan this time:

I know I do this constantly. It makes me want to disappear, it's a lot of self-hate, because I believe I can be better, and I don't have any excuses. I'm always a big disappointment to myself and then I try to avoid interaction with others so they don't see what I see.

This is a young man who limits his social interaction because he doesn't know how else to deal with that voice. I have to wonder how much of this disappointment is because (a) something in his past has caused him to set unbelievably high expectations for himself, and (b) his poor image of himself has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, similar to the stories above, I bet he "fails" because his fear and self-loathing make him act in ways that actively prevent him from accomplishing the things he most wants in life. He wants friends and successful relationships, yet he withdraws and acts fearful.

Another reader (this one anonymous) tells virtually the same story:

This is my biggest problem, by a long shot. I'm wasting my time/money with school; it's not really going to get me anywhere. I can't believe I'm 30 and still living at home. I don't have any friends. I don't want to annoy the ones I do have by relying on them too much. I haven't had a date in over a year. I haven't had a boyfriend in--count 'em--six years. I'll never get married or have kids. I can't believe how ugly I am. I can feel myself getting fatter, frumpier, and more bitter all the time. Blah blah blah. Worst of all, when I try to do something about it, I feel like a fraud, or I get discouraged that it seems like I have to move mountains to maintain a minimally acceptable standard. How do you find the energy to stop this?

Again, here is a person who chooses, out of fear, to limit interaction with friends, then is sad because she doesn't get to interact with friends. She firmly believes she won't get married, and perhaps doesn't understand that such a belief is one of the biggest impediments to making that happen.

That darned inner voice causes trouble for so many people -- persistent, life-altering trouble. Nancy Ruth provides a final example:

Negative self talk is my bugaboo. To send out a manuscript or submit an article takes such a terrible amount of energy. I haven't found any way to overcome this.

Yes, It IS Possible to Overcome Negative Self Talk

I am privileged to work with Thomas K. Matthews, a professional coach whose expertise is in helping people eliminate negative self-talk from their lives. He has worked with hundreds of clients who have spent many years dealing with problems just like the ones described above. He is able to help people uncover the influences in their lives that have resulted in their feelings of self doubt, discover the positive effects of these influences, and discard the negative. Clients report that the results are often extraordinary.

I have had the opportunity to review his book manuscript entitled WHEN YOU'RE NAKED, ALONE, IN THE DARK, which details his approach for identifying and overcoming the factors that lead to self doubt and negative self talk. I, for one, can't wait until this book is published so I can start recommending it to people who write in with this sort of issue.

One of the key insights that underlies this approach is that we don't have a single inner voice. Instead we have a committee that develops over our lifetimes. Our pasts include several episodes and periods of time that contribute to the development of self doubt. Identifying these chronological events is a critical first step toward removing their hold over our lives.

As today's Question of the Week, then, here are a couple of questions to start you down that path:

1. At what age do you recognize that your self doubt first surfaced? What happened?

2. In elementary school, did you experience people or circumstances that perpetuated negative or doubtful self talk habits? Were you scolded or demeaned by peers or authority figures?

By answering these types of questions objectively and honestly about various periods of time in your past, you can begin to recognize and face the members of your committee. Many people find this process both challenging and liberating.

Your comments are welcome. Since this can be an intensely personal process, I will also understand if some of you choose to do your introspection in private.


  1. Anonymous11:52 PM

    Many Thanks to Andrew for his using my curriculum as an example of how people can eliminate negative self talk.

    My proven self-evaluation technique addresses society’s valiant attempts to promote self-esteem. Current approaches are designed to create more confident, well-rounded individuals. However, this old dogma has created legions of people proclaiming their importance and strength on the outside, while struggling with rampant insecurity on the inside. I show people how to break down the false bravado and replace it with the strength of developing genuine humble confidence.

    People with low self-esteem are looking for answers in books, tapes, techniques and therapy. Many of my clients have read the books, visited therapists and listened to the tapes, only to find that their gnawing feelings of inadequacy remain. Often I find that those who enquire about my services have taken a self-esteem program of some sort while in high school or college, with the same lack of positive results. In discussing these failures, it is apparent that the way self-esteem is taught is ineffective because it promotes a superficial, false confidence but does not work on the specific cause of the problem.

    The development of humble confidence examines the root of the trouble, identifies the cause and then helps eliminate the negative self-talk that perpetuates poor self-image and lack of confidence.
    The simple process allows the individual to reap the positive messages from their past experiences and abandon the negative ownership of past trauma. This is a simple, yet amazingly powerful concept.

    Ironically, I actually have coached several mental health professionals who, though they know volumes about the human psyche, were unable to cast off their own self doubt.

    Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this exchange and I am humbled by Andrew's praise and compliments. Anyone who feels that my program may help can contact me through Andrew's site.

    Your servant and guide,

    Thomas K. Matthews

  2. Wow Andrew,

    I think I'll have to buy the book. I have so many damned conversations with myself I always feel like I'm in a crowded room when I'm alone. Thanks for the tip!