Negative self-talk is so subtle the habit slips up on us.
You look in the mirror as you get dressed and wish your body was different. Or you beat yourself up for not doing enough.
We get so used to pressing play on all those negative messages we start to believe them. Before we know it, our confidence is shaken and we feel like a shadow of a person. If you’re ready to come out from behind the shadows, keep reading for tips on how to overcome negative self talk.
The Dead Magnolia Tree Analogy
The day started like any other, with me watching the wind move through the trees just outside my bedroom window.
This peaceful moment was rudely interrupted when my gaze fell on several dead leaves hanging onto the trunk of a small magnolia tree. They’d been there for awhile. I walked past them every time I checked the mail or walked our dog, Britt.
I didn’t realize it in the moment, but every time I walked past those dead leaves, my spirit sank. For whatever reason, I felt stuck with that magnolia tree. It hadn’t dawned on me that I wasn’t.
Why did I tolerate it for so long? I honestly think it’s because I was too overwhelmed by the withering, dying plants. It was like a giant looming over me, and I just didn’t have the energy to face it. But something in me shifted that morning.
I threw on some workout clothes, grabbed my shovel from the garage, and marched through my living room and out the front door.
The ground was hard and dry. The magnolia tree had grown deeper roots than I’d expected, but eventually I pulled that dead tree out of the ground.
By the time I walked back through my house with the shovel, I felt the freedom and satisfaction of victory. I couldn’t know just how freeing it was until the next morning when I turned over in my bed to watch the wind blow through the trees. This time there was sunshine and clear, blue skies where the dead magnolia stood the day before. My world felt more open, more expansive.
My tendency in this very vulnerable, open space is to quickly fill it up with something, anything. In this case, flowers. But, something in me felt like I was supposed to wait, to sit in this vacant space and hold it open.
Are you afraid of space?
It seems like a silly question with an obvious answer, but after spending some time sitting in emptiness, I have to admit, I’m scared of space. Of openness.
It’s very uncomfortable and a lot intimidating. I’m filled with questions like,
What does the emptiness represent?
What’s going to fill it up?
When will it fill it up?
Will it fill up by itself, or do I need to do something?”
As I pondered the answers to these things, a spiritual awareness rose within me. I didn’t just pull up a dead tree, I uprooted a part of me that had shriveled from constant negative self-talk. Now it was time to confront it.
Where Does Negative Self Talk Come From?
Consider where these voices come from such as:
- belief systems passed down from generations before you
- experiences from your formative years
- or negative encounters with society
When you know where the negativity comes from, you can reckon with it, reframe it with the wisdom gained from your lived experience.
Journaling, talking with a trusted confidante, or seeing a counselor are great reckoning tools (I use all three) that inevitably uncover what’s true and good.
I grew up believing appearance was everything. That being pretty counted…a lot. So, it’s no wonder that watching my former self give way to motherhood, hypothyroidism, chronic inflammation, and eventually middle age, has been really hard to accept. Looking in the mirror every morning has been like standing before a beauty contestant judge who marks off points because:
- I’m not thin enough.
- My face is too puffy. The extra weight makes me look like a potato head.
- I have loose skin, my eyelids are too droopy, and the dark circles under my eyes make me look worn and haggard.
- My stomach is way too big, and my arms are embarrassingly flabby, so maybe I shouldn’t go sleeveless.
Examples of Negative Self-Talk
From our appearance, to productivity, to our roles and responsibilities, negative-self talk comes in many forms. It often sounds like:
“I’m being so lazy today.”
“I didn’t get anything done.”
“I really shouldn’t be watching t.v. (or any other fun break you might take.)
“I don’t have time for myself.”
“I’m too busy.”
“I could never wear that.”
“I’m not nurturing enough.”
“I’m a failure.”
“I’m so dumb.”
“I’m such a loser.”
In time, I’ve learned to appreciate these thoughts for what they are; signs or guideposts asking us to look into our hearts and tend our wounds.
How to Stop Feeling Negatively About Yourself
All that negative self-talk day in and day out, and I never even realized it because it’s the only voice I knew. It was like a tape that had been playing so long it became permanent background noise. Or like the dead magnolia tree that had become what felt like a permanent fixture in the backdrop of my life.
Neither of which was true.
Instead of letting lies take root, you may want to personify the inner critic and tell her it’s not true. (Truth is your armor.) Thank her for her input, and tell her you don’t need it right now.
Its’s also important to remove yourself from the contributing circumstances or remove the circumstances themselves. That might look like:
- cutting back on any media that feeds those destructive thoughts
- letting go of detrimental reminders like clothes that no longer fit
- a hurtful text thread
- or setting boundaries around certain relationships.
Once you remove yourself from the circumstances, you may suddenly become aware of the weight you were carrying. The emptiness may feel hollow and deep at the same time. I felt like I’d been waiting in a never-ending line for acceptance and suddenly realized I’d been holding the stamp of approval the whole time. I could either let guilt and shame fill that space, or I could practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion may feel unnatural and awkward, but just imagine you’re talking to a friend in the same situation. What would you tell her? Or, picture yourself as a child. How would you nurture that child?
Overcoming Negative Self Talk
You get to claim this new territory (the empty space once occupied by negative self-talk) as holy ground. In other words, you’ll replace negative self-talk with truth and self-love.
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to do this is to practice self-care. For me, it started with a simple skin care routine. Just washing my face every day was like sending a little love note to myself. After a while, you start to feel loveable.
You can practice any means of self-love like:
- getting some sun
- enjoying time outdoors
- pursuing hobbies
- setting boundaries
- decluttering and organizing your schedule and spaces
- spending time with friends
- moving your body
- changing your mindset around food
- exploring something new
This new territory will feel uncomfortable at first, but it sure is better than beating yourself up all the time. With enough practice, it will eventually become your new normal.
One note here, you don’t have to overhaul your whole life at once. Start small with one new self-care habit. Build a routine to support that habit. Once it’s well established, add the next new habit.
Wishing you the peace that comes from overcoming what no longer serves you.
For more encouragement, read: