Oh, how clearly I remember the day I landed my dream job. And, the day I decided I wanted to buy my first house. And, the day that my now-husband said, ‘I love you’, for the first time. And, the day that it became clear that I was going to be a full-time stepmother – as in, 100% time – to my husband’s 2 amazing daughters.
I was over the moon with excitement. My head and my heart were filled with joy and pride, and with visions of a beautiful future, personally and professionally. Optimism, hope and gratitude were my prevailing mindsets. I was smiling ear to ear, doing the Jig (in private, to be clear) and on Cloud Nine for sure. While the circumstances on these days were especially poignant, there are thousands of other days that stand out in my memory – and hopefully many more to come – for the unbridled excitement and optimism I felt.
I also remember, with the same level of clarity, the day after each and every one of those great days. The ‘day-afters’, however, were anything but happy. No grinning, no dancing, no lightness of being. All it took was a mere 24 hours, if that, for the negative self-talk to rear its head when a great opportunity of any kind came my way:
“Things like this never happen to me. I’m going to screw it up for sure.”
“Doesn’t my new employer realize that I really don’t have anything to offer, that I’m really not worthy of this incredible job or capable of succeeding in it?”
“This guy may think he loves me, but he’ll realize soon enough that I’m not that great.”
“I am going to screw up my husband’s kids! I’m not capable of helping to raise these girls.”
The mind that was filled to the gills with all things happy and promising the day before was now overwhelmed with ‘worry thoughts’ and negativity that I deemed truisms, givens, the inevitable negative outcomes of all that had happened the day before.
I know I’m not alone when it comes to negative self-talk. Most of us suffer from it, albeit in different ways, at varying levels of severity and caused by diverse circumstances. It affects our self-esteem, our personal and professional growth, and our overall quality of life. For some of us, it seriously hurts our relationships, our choices, our career, all aspects of our lives.
Given its unpleasant and unwanted presence, it is not surprising that many people view their negative self-talk as an enemy that must be conquered with brute force, once and for all. A villain, an intruder, some insensitive jerk taking up residence in their brain without paying rent, or whatever ugly persona or label one may give their negative self-talk. For so many people, anger and frustration are the prevailing emotions that factor directly into the combative strategy they elect to use to try to address it.
I take a different tact entirely, however. A tact that is anything but adversarial and, 25 years later and still counting, I am happy to report that it has been very effective for me and has significantly improved all aspects of my life:
I don’t fight my negative self-talk. Rather, I embrace it; I am compassionate with it; and I give it the reassurance it needs.
I view my negative, self-defeating self-talk, and the endless ‘worry thoughts’ that accompany it, as the vulnerable, less secure, downright needy part of myself (I call it ‘the child within me’) who is simply asking for some love and reassurance from my more confident, experienced, optimistic self (who I refer to as ‘the adult me’).
The ‘adult me’ is the excited, confident and optimistic one who was jumping for joy just the day before when a fabulous thing happened and who truly believes that I am fully capable of thriving. The negative self-talk is coming from the fearful ‘child within me’ who is questioning my abilities and my worthiness and is even bringing a little paranoia to the mix. To address the situation, I need to call upon the adult me to nurture and coach the child within me:
“You absolutely can kill it in your dream job. The evidence is there from your previous accomplishments to prove it.”
“You are certainly fully capable of owning a house, of living happily on your own, of experiencing all of the joy that comes with self-sufficiency in this way.”
“You absolutely can do a great job helping your step-daughters become strong, independent, resilient, happy adults.”
I have no doubt that some, if not many of you are scoffing at the positive, non-adversarial approach I take to managing my negative self-talk, but please stay with me even so. Better yet, give it a shot:
Try reframing all of the unwanted, negative, sometimes downright defeating tapes in your head as merely the vulnerable part of yourself who is letting the more confident part of yourself know they are feeling scared, confused and altogether out of sorts, and that they need some tender loving care.
Talk – preferably, out loud – to your vulnerable self in a soft, kind tone, using affirming, supportive words that are based on your real experiences, not your ‘worry thoughts’ (which are not facts, by the way).
Give your vulnerable self some concrete guidance that stems from the real and incredible wisdom, talents, skills, experiences, etc., that you have cultivated and honed over the years.
Once the vulnerable younger part of you feels better, the negative self-talk will quiet down. You will be able to bring back to the fore the part of you who is optimistic, reality-based, hopeful, competent, possesses infinite capacity to grow, and so much more.
Please let me know how it goes.