How Self-Talk Can Become Harmful - dummies

How Self-Talk Can Become Harmful

By S. Renee Smith, Vivian Harte

Some of your self-talk is reasonable. If you need to go to the grocery store after work and you think about what you want to buy, that’s fine. If your company gives you an award for a great idea you came up with and you mentally pat yourself on the back, that makes perfect sense.

A small amount of negative self-talk is normal. For example, you forget to call your friend on her birthday, and you think to yourself, “Darn! I wish I hadn’t forgotten Joan’s birthday yesterday! I’ll call her after I get home from work this afternoon.” Everyone makes minor mistakes, and recognizing those is normal.

But talking to yourself about yourself in a derogatory fashion often or constantly definitely isn’t helpful. When you have negative self-talk, you’re actually instructing yourself to behave in certain ways.

For example, if you say to yourself, “This is too difficult for me to do,” there’s a good chance you won’t even try to do it. If you think, “I’ll always be poor,” you’ll feel defeated and fail to get more education or work harder to earn more money. What you think is what you become.

Negative self-talk is cruel. It’s judgmental and mean-spirited. It makes you feel small, inadequate, ashamed, unworthy, and hopeless. It’s constantly looking for proof that you’re not good enough. It leads directly to low self-esteem.

However, your negative self-talk can serve a purpose. Common ones include the following:

  • Feeling powerless: “I’m so weak that I can’t do anything about it.”

  • Putting yourself down before anyone else can: “No wonder I didn’t get that promotion. I’m not nearly as good as everyone else in this department.”

  • Being able to justify yourself: “I can’t control myself, so I’ll eat all I want.”

  • Getting attention: “I’m going to cry on your shoulder because my life is so miserable.”

Some people imagine this negative voice as their inner critic. It’s sitting on their shoulder whispering damaging thoughts into their ear, just waiting to destroy their self-esteem another time.

And what are some of the consequences of thinking poorly about yourself?

  • Frustration

  • Anger

  • Feeling like a victim

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Difficult relationships

  • Alcohol abuse and drug use

  • Feeling hurt

  • Stress

  • Less of an ability to meet life’s challenges

  • Difficulty focusing, relaxing, digesting, and sleeping

  • Poor performance