The Terrible Things You Say: Building Self Esteem with Positive Self Talk

Do you say terrible things to yourself? Before you reply "of course not" - do you ever call yourself an idiot? Stupid? Do you say to yourself "What were you thinking?" or "Use your head!"?

What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror? Do you compliment yourself on your appearance -- or focus on what you don't like? Do you ever call yourself fat, ugly, clumsy, or old?

There are many subtle and persisting ways in which we undermine self-esteem. One common way is to make negative statements about ourselves - our intelligence, appearance, capabilities ("I could never do X"). We compare ourselves to others, usually coming up short. We focus on past events and predict the future ("I should have . . . "; or "I'll never have enough money to travel the world!").

Negative self-statements serve as powerful limiting factors to our growth and development. Negative self-statements are the mental equivalent of lashing yourself. They are designed to hurt and punish - and they leave scars of self-hate and diminished self-confidence.

Rather than trying to figure out why we say terrible things to ourselves, it is far more useful to - stop it! Change it - starting now! The first step is awareness, simply noticing what you are saying to yourself. As you hurry through traffic are you saying to yourself "I'll never make it on time!"? What if, after becoming aware of this negative self-statement, you say to yourself "I have all the time I need."? Doesn't that feel better, to relax as you struggle with the traffic, which you have no control over anyway?

Editing negative self-statements is an effective way to build self-esteem. There is always an internal dialogue going on, as if we are sports commentators narrating our lives. As you become more aware of what you are saying to yourself, you may be surprised at the amount of self-criticism and harsh, negative statements which make up your internal conversation.

When you become aware of saying something terrible to yourself, simply edit what you have said to reflect a more positive appraisal. When you call yourself stupid after making a mistake, say to yourself that it is only a mistake, everybody makes mistakes, it can be fixed. Be compassionate with this person who so badly wants to do things right.

Consciously making positive self-statements begins to alter the composition of the internal dialogue, from 90% negative, to 80%, to ultimately more positive than negative. What if your internal conversation was filled with positive, complimentary and encouraging statements? Won't you feel better? Won't you enjoy being yourself more?

Laboratory experimenters long ago demonstrated that positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement in changing behavior. Animal trainers have known this for a long time. Saying terrible things to yourself is negative reinforcement. Positive self-talk is positive reinforcement.

What if you treated yourself with the kindness and compassion and gentleness that you easily offer to your friends? When a friend is struggling with a painful issue, do you call her stupid and childish? Probably you are sympathetic with her struggle and supportive of her efforts to move through the pain to find a better way. What if you offered that same support and encouragement to yourself, rather than beating yourself up if you are discouraged or in pain?

Positive self-talk is a simple yet powerful way to enhance self- esteem. It doesn't require a therapist, or a friend to talk to. You don't have to figure out why you are saying these terrible things!

You can practice by writing positive self-statements in a journal. Even if they are hard to believe, say or write them anyway. This is not about psyching yourself up to believe something that is untrue. It is about taking positive steps towards liking yourself better. You can do it!

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