Four Tips for Reducing Negative Self-Talk
“I’m so disgusting. There’s no way I am going to this party tonight. All people are going to think about is how fat I’ve gotten and how boring I am.”
Negative self-talk, stemming from beliefs about your self and your body, go
hand-in-hand with eating disorder behaviors. Feelings such as shame, disgust, and anger often fuel these thoughts. In turn, the swirl of those thoughts and emotions make us want to isolate and withdraw, which only sets the stage for more negative self-talk and painful emotions.
Here are four helpful strategies to break out of a pattern of negative self-talk:
Pull The Weeds
If we have a garden overrun with weeds, it’s unlikely that anything new will grow. We have to first pull those weeds out to create more optimal conditions. Similarly, when our mind is constantly overrun with harsh, critical self-talk, it’s very unlikely that new ways of being with ourselves will have the chance to take root. The best way to “pull the weeds” of negative self-talk is to first notice that it’s occurring, which will allow some skillful distance from the thoughts.
Noticing your self-talk may sound easy, but it may actually be very difficult because, for many people, it’s as automatic as breathing. Consider using external reminders to prompt yourself throughout the day to pay attention to how you’re talking to yourself. Use sticky notes in high traffic places like your bathroom, your computer, or your car dashboard. You might even use phone reminders that pop up throughout the day. Remember to change up these reminders every so often so you don’t start to tune them out over time!
Couples Therapy With Yourself
Once you get some distance from those thoughts, it might not register just how damaging they are because they feel so normal and true. But if you begin to think about your self-talk as reflective of the relationship you have with yourself, it can start to highlight just how harmful these statements are.
You might consider writing down those statements and imagine saying them to someone you love. Often we are met with horror and a clear sense that we would never utter those words to someone we love. If we did, they’d likely hit the road. It’s essential to focus on how we speak to someone when we’re working to rebuild a relationship where trust has been broken. Our relationship with ourselves is no exception.
Plant the Seeds
With awareness of our self-talk and a fresh perspective, the ground is more fertile to plant new “seeds” – that is, new ways of relating to yourself.
Affirmations, positive statements about something that you aspire to believe, can be helpful for some people. However, for many, affirmations can fall flat because it feels like a lie. Therefore, you might instead consider a statement that begins with “I’m working toward believing…”. Often, people can get behind the statement of working toward something rather than trying to tell themselves it’s already true. Say this “I’m working toward…” statement with as much compassion and kindness in your tone of voice as possible. You can hold the pain of your current belief without buying into it.
Many people draw a blank when asked to come up with a more kind, compassionate alternative to negative self-talk. It’s like being asked to speak another language. If this happens, consider what a compassionate action could be.
We’ve all been in a situation where someone we love is in a lot of pain and we don’t know what to say. In those situations, sometimes giving them a hug, handing them a tissue, or putting your hand on theirs can communicate as much as, if not more than, words. For yourself, consider things like taking a warm bath, wrapping yourself up in a cozy blanket, or going for a mindful walk. You could even give yourself a hug. Try to bring all your attention to the compassionate action when your mind wants to move into negative self-talk.
Repairing the relationship with ourselves is challenging but is an essential
part of recovery for most people. Be as patient with yourself as you would if you were waiting for a garden to grow. You might feel like you don’t see immediate change from one day to the next. But just like faithfully watering a garden, over time you will start to see the buds of a new kind of relationship with yourself.
Breese Annable, PsyD specializes in treating emotional sensitivity and reactivity, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, chronic dieting, and negative body image. She uses evidence based approaches including DBT, exposure/response prevention, and Health At Every Size/Intuitive Eating. CLICK HERE for more information.