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How We Talk to Ourselves Matters

By: Emily Brennan, MA, LAC, NCC

You have probably heard the phrase, “It’s nice to be nice.” An accurate statement, indeed. What about being nice to ourselves? It may sound cheesy, but how “nice” we are to ourselves and our ‘self-talk’ in general is more important than we think. Self-talk is our inner dialogue and it can sound harsh and critical or tender and loving. For many of us, it is much easier to be self- critical than it is to say something positive to ourselves. You may have been conditioned to think negatively, meaning you have most likely been a self- critic for a long time and that it likely did not start with you. It may have been a parent, a caregiver, a sibling, or a peer that either criticized you from an early age or they modeled self- critical talk by being critical to themselves. Negative self-talk may not have started with you, but you do have the ability to alter the way you speak to yourself.  

It is important because the way we talk to ourselves can affect our mood, our self- esteem, our relationships, and even our entire outlook on life. Self-talk can also impact how we respond to stressful situations and events. So, how do we make the shift from critical self- talk to being our own biggest fan? Well, like most things in life, it takes practice. We cannot expect to master positive and supportive self- talk in one day, one week, or even one month. It might even take a lifetime of consciousness and dedication to communicate positively with ourselves. 

That may sound overwhelming, and fortunately there are small steps you can take every day to shift your negative conditioning to a more positive one. The first step may be to just listen and observe your thoughts. It is common to be unaware of every thought we have throughout the day, especially if our thoughts have sounded similar for a long time. Take a few days and actively listen to your self-talk. You can even keep a thought log, a homework assignment that is common in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You simply jot down your thoughts in a journal to keep a record and at the end of each day you will be able to see just how “positive” or “negative” your thoughts were that day.   

You may be shocked at how many more negative thoughts you had than positive ones. If your go-to thought in the morning is similar to “ugh another day of this…” the rest of your thoughts throughout the day will probably have the same tone to them. Your thoughts may sound similar to “I cannot do anything right,” “everyone else is doing better than me,” “I’ll never get past this,” or even a big one like “nobody likes me or cares about me.” At some point in time we may have all experienced a similar thought and may be familiar with the feelings that follow. It may seem elementary, but what if instead we reframed those negative thoughts to “I am doing the best I can,” “I am moving at my own pace,” “I am strong and can move past this”, and “I am loved and cared for.” 

If we practice “catching” our negative thoughts and reframing them to positive ones, we could experience a mood shift, increased self- esteem and motivation, and eventually positive self-talk could change the way we look at life. It is important to remember this will take practice and allowing yourself the time to make the shift is a form of self-love. You do not have to do this alone. If you would like to meet with a counselor please reach out to Symmetry Counseling for help. We offer a range of mental health services, including individual counseling and online counseling to support you. 

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