woman with low self-esteemHe Who Hogs The Power Tools asked me if there was a reason why the oven was still on, a good half-hour after we had finished supper.

Instead of saying, “Because I forgot to turn it off” — which was the simple truth — I answered, “Because I’m so stupid.”

Negative self-talk is a phrase my sister-in-law was using a few years ago, when she went through a phase of reading a lot of trendy personal improvement books. I scoffed at the time, and I’d forgotten all about it… until that small incident this evening brought it to mind.

Now, what I said does not reflect my true belief about myself. I’m not stupid, truly. And even if I were not exactly the brightest bulb in the box, there’s nothing stupid about forgetting to turn off the oven — it’s the kind of oversight that can happen to anyone, especially when you’re rushing to get a meal on the table at the end of the day.

Bottom line: “stupid” is certainly not a nice thing to say about anyone!

We wouldn’t call our partner “stupid,” or our kids or even that customer service guy who was driving me nuts on the phone last week. So why would we say that to our selves? Why would we call our selves down so rudely? And more importantly, how do we stop it from happening again?

I found these points from Manitoba Agriculture, in an article about rebuilding self-esteem directed towards farm families but certainly applicable to everyone:

  • Negative self talk or imagining what others are thinking or saying about you can cause loss of sleep and generally wear you down.
  • Losing confidence in everything you used to be capable of causes other parts of your life to pull apart.
  • Concentrating on only the negative, paints a reality that is bleak and dark and creates a feeling of hopelessness.

It sounds a lot like my mother’s old catch-phrase — “Think Pink!”

Come to think of it, Mom also used to break into the old Bing Crosby song from time to time, too:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene

Ready to sing along?

We know the effect on kids of constantly talking them down and criticizing. Is it any different when we do it to ourselves? — no, this “negative self-talk” is nothing but a disservice we do to ourselves at times when we may already be feeling a little stressed or low in spirits. Self-esteem can be fragile at the best of times.

So, how do I make a change? A good starting point might be with these practical tips from Chiron Counselling in Australia:

Monitor Your Self-Talk Throughout the Day. Identify and reduce thought patterns that are detrimental to your self-esteem. Note what you say to yourself during periods of stress or when you make a mistake. Whenever a negative self-statement pops into your mind (habits are hard to break, remember but try and try again), think, “I don’t have to believe that about myself.” Then repeat an affirming message or statement that negates the self-defeating one.

Make a list of the negative self-statements that you tend to make when under stress. If you are unable to identify these readily, compile your list over a period of time by monitoring your thoughts during stressful periods. Once you have written down your self-damaging statements, write the opposite of each message or a challenge to each one. For example, change “I am stupid” to “I am smart and competent in many areas.”

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