Saturday, November 18, 2006

Question of the Week #15: Negative Self Talk

Negative self talk is one of the most common themes that emerges in many of the Dismaying Stories on this site. When we are faced with a challenge, opportunity or success, that little voice inside often pipes up and reminds us that we really aren't all that great. (You are great, by the way; the voice is virtually always wrong.)

From time to time I talk to highly successful business executives, people who have accomplished a great deal and exude a tremendous amount of apparent confidence. When you get them alone, however, almost every one of them will admit that this thought runs through their head frequently: "Some day someone is going to realize I'm just faking it, that I really don't have much of a clue what I am doing." They have plenty of clues, of course, otherwise they wouldn't have all that success in life. Still, though, their negative self talk causes them stress and makes it more difficult to move forward with confidence in life.

I wonder if you could take a moment and listen to your inner voice. Are you like much of the human race when it comes to negative self talk? Do you sometimes doubt yourself? If so, don't feel bad; you have plenty of company.

In what types of situations does your negative inner voice start whispering self-defeating messages in your ear? What does it say? Have you found a way to ignore it, or does it still hold some degree of power over you?

Sharing your story will undoubtedly be helpful for other readers, who are likely to recognize themselves in your words and realize they are not alone. As always, I'll post some of my favorite responses next week.


  1. Ansolutely loved this and the insight it offered me into my own being.
    I have been negative introspectiong offlate,is that deliberate or what I dunno but I sure m doing it every now and then.
    Not anymore.

  2. I find that sometimes, the negative voices are a direct reflection of who we're hanging out with and who belongs in our social circle. Add to that a lifelong desire to be liked by everyone, and you have a recipe for misery.

    After about 40 years of putting myself down and apologizing for the most mundane things, I have come to realize that I am a worthy human being, even if I'm not "perfect" (...and although I know some people who think that they ARE indeed "perfect", in reality, who is "perfect"?).

    And who defines what "perfect" is, anyway? I realized that I was defining myself on other people's ideas of what "perfect" was...big houses, expensive clothes, being super-skinny, driving a fancy car...and I was failing at being "perfect" miserably. My inner voice was constantly saying, "You're not thin enough--stop eating so much." Or, "You're wearing clothes from Old Navy--everyone else is wearing clothes from Bloomingdale's." And, "No one wants to drive with you in your Jeep...just go with so and so in her BMW." "Don't invite everyone over to your tiny house, they won't fit and they'll laugh at you when they leave." My ideals were very skewed based on my circle of "friends".

    My mother used to say, "Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are." I had to heed those words of advice, and although my close friend list has gone down considerably, the friends I have left were the ones that were always there for me to begin with. You know--the ones who don't measure someone by the clothes they wear, or where they live. The ones that come to my small house and have such a great time that they never leave! The ones who forgive my human, not store-bought, "imperfections" and love me anyway. The ones who TRULY get that the only thing that matters is what's in our hearts, not in our wallets (you'd be amazed at how many people DON'T get that). My very best friend, who I've know most of my life, lives in one of the most expensive areas around here. But she "gets" it, and always has.

    I have learned to thank God for the most important things in children, my husband, my family...and I stopped putting myself down for not living up to other people's expectations. And when I feel myself slipping in that downward direction, I pray for God to redirect my thoughts. Works every time!

    Take good care,

  3. I am facing job loss because my boss wasn't re-elected.

    Then I was rear ended by a truck, as a result I have ruptured discs in my spine and the doctor says I need surgery.

    This crisis time my self talk is not about my looks, my age, my abilities, my status, etc., but about "why do all my plans always fall through?" and "why does this always happen to poor me?" type of questions which I know are just as destructive.

    I know the answer - I have to find a plan and keep myself up mentally, and somehow I also have to fight with all my might against this negative talk pounding at the door of my brain!

    It's almost a self punishing prattle trying to invade my space. Is our negative self talk a form of punishing ourselves for not being "perfect," yet while all the time knowing it is impossible to be "perfect?"

  4. I'm bi-polar so there are times I have great self esteem and am ready to take on the world. Then there are times when I'm so down and negative that all I want to do is stay in bed.

    Either extreme isn't good and I try to keep myself in balance. A good balanced diet and exercise helps

    I found journaling and writing down plans helps me to be reasonable with my manic high expectations. It also keeps me going during the manic lows because I feel obligated to at least follow my vowed daily/weekly planning.

    This way that negative inner voice doesn't egg me or hold much power in my behaviors. I also found I succeed more often as well and that is a positive thing. Even if it's only getting through a week of humdrum chores and housewife/mom stuff.

  5. I gave that voice a name in the begining.I told myself it was my mother speaking not me. At the time I was breaking out of a bad relationship with her and she was a welcome scapegoat.She had also played a huge part in shaping my negative self image and so it seemed fitting.
    Any time I thought or said something negative about myself I'd say" That is not my voice,that is my mother. I am not what she says."
    After a while the negativity stopped being such a big intrusion.
    Now if anything creeps in instead of blaming it on her,(because I just can't anymore,time to take some responsibility)I examine what it is that's making me say or think those things and carry on
    from there.

  6. Anonymous5:13 PM

    It’s easier to fail than succeed so accepting failure before hand reinforces what you believed from the start subconsciously.
    So if you know you are going to fail why try?
    Years ago when I was coaching a hockey workshop for kids 8-10, many were discouraged because others their own age skated and played better so they groaned at the thought of being sent out there to disappoint the rest of the team.
    Some of them would have been just as good if the had the experience but they just walked away from it because they didn’t think they could be as good as the others.
    I am sure many of them grew up with the same mentality that they are not as good as the others around them and would rather forgo the embarrassment and not try to go forth in the world so they remain stagnant.
    I myself have questioned some of the endeavours I took on but chose to pursue them because frankly, not knowing sucks more than trying and not succeeding.
    At least I knew I gave it a shot and that alone makes me a winner.
    It’s those who give up, that loose out and have their self esteem trampled on by their own hand.
    Most of my problems were family related and I knew what I had to do or remain locked in the same rut so I dealt with it.
    I have travelled half way around the world since then because I had to know.
    Next I will be taking on something new because I feel like it and I don’t care if it fails because I will give it my best shot.
    If it succeeds, sweet.
    That’s all we could do, try.
    After, you look at why it worked or didn’t then move on to something better because there is always something better after a failure.

    Have a nice weekend Andrew

  7. I don't know what to say, 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.

  8. Self doubt was a HUGE issue for me when I was young - especially in my teen years - as I suspect it is for sO many teens. But 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. Because I don't like EVERYone I meet -- and that's okay too!

    However... I do still occassionally walk into a room full of people I know and think "NONE of them want to talk to me". And on VERY rare occassions it can still get me bad enough that I'll do the wall flower thing. But MOST of the time, the minute the thought hits me, I disregard it and MAKE myself talk to someone - doesn't matter who -- just get me started! Because I've noticed that when I do the "wall flower" thing -- NOBODY thinks I'm feeling "shy" or "uncomfortable" -- they automatically think I'm being "standoffish"... I've actually been TOLD this before! Because I'm generally SO outgoing and happy -- so when a "moment" hits me, no one even suspects that I MIGHT be feeling insecure! And THAT amazes me -- because I know where I came from!

  9. Anonymous10:45 PM

    This is what my whole blog, Imperfect Perfections is all about. My struggle with self esteem issues and trying to find away to love myself in spite of myself. I will be coming back here often to read, and I will have you blogrolled on my Focused Insanity page

  10. I think a little negative self-talk is only human. What matters most is how frequently it rears its ugly head and how you deal with it. Whether or not it controls you or whether you have control of it.

    My negative self-talk comes out usually when I'm overwhelmed, when I make a stupid mistake, or after the loss of a relationship.

    In each case, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I have the power of choice. I remind myself that noone else is responsible for improving my life. I focus on all the good things in my life and set goals and implement strategies to improve my weaknesses. For all the things in my life that I do not have control over, I simply acknowledge what I want and have faith that in time I may get it. I can appreciate the "mistakes" I make because I make it a point to learn from them.

  11. Anonymous8:48 AM

    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.

  12. Anonymous11:23 AM

    Negative feelings are ever present for me, unfortunately. However, I am finding a shift taking place within myself and I think it is due to being with my father during his last months and being with him as he passed. It really forced me to look at myself and how I wanted to live out the rest of my life. I don't want to leave this world unfulfilled or feeling bad about myself all the time. He was a great teacher for me.

  13. Anonymous11:56 AM

    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?

  14. Anonymous6:45 PM

    Yeah, this one is a killer for me too.

    I feel so worthless most of the time, like pretty much anything I attempt to do is going to turn to s*** because of my own incompetence / personality hangups / lack of drive / self-esteem issues, yadda yadda. On top of that, I have some hefty problems with alcoholism & drug abuse that cause me to behave in something of a Jeckyl / Hyde manner -- I embarrass myself while under the influence more than any other adult female I know. These ugly traits of mine make me want to withdraw and hide in shame from the rest of the world, because even if someone happens to like me on first impression I know it's only a matter of time before they see the real messed-up, out of control me and run screaming into the night.

    Until, of course, my own lonliness, anger and lust for stimulation / substance drives me out the door yet again to make a shrieking monstrosity out of myself before the world. Even if I try to hide my drinking / drugging at home, once I'm trashed I'll eventually get on the phone and start drunk-dialing friends and family at all hours, regardless of how discourteous and selfish I know my behavior is (at least when I'm sober anyway). I despise how needy and pathetic I am, but I can't seem to stop; it's getting to the point where just about everyone I know is avoiding me. And I can't blame them.

  15. Thoughts to Anonymous...

    You may feel like a "Fraud" when you try to improve your negative self-talk, but that's how it starts. Just keep trying to change it and soon it will become second nature and the voice that is criticizing, degrading, discouraging, etc. will lose its power over you.

  16. 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. So, why do we allow the negative self talk? You can make a choice to stop the negative self talk everytime it happens.
    I also agree with lisa,, when she said that often times the negative self talk that we have is influenced by the people that are in our life. How much better would you feel if you removed yourself from the toxic relationships in your life?

  17. Anonymous11:51 AM

    I've also suffered a great deal from negative self talk. It drove me into really bad depression. Now I've got a handle on it. But even so, everytime i see/read something about someone who's smart, good, whatever, the voice immediately starts "See, what a loser you are! You're not like 'smart' or 'good'." For example, I read what Walker had written and I thought, "See there, that's what a person with EQ does. No wonder you're dead end" :)
    But at least nowadays I also get thoughts in my head which say that I'm not so bad actually!