A little self-criticism is a good thing. It can be a reality check and provide a moment of clarity that challenges you to do better. However, if left unchecked, your self-talk can veer off the road of constructive criticism and end up in the ditch of self-loathing.
There is a distinct difference between “I’ve put on a few pounds. I need to get back in the gym,” and “I’m a fat pig that no one wants.” See the difference? One motivates the other deprecates.
Like it or not, everything you say to yourself matters. Your inner critic isn’t harmless. It inhibits you, limits you, and stops you from pursuing your dreams and living your best life. It robs you of peace of mind and emotional well-being and, if left unchecked it can even lead to serious mental health problems.
Causes and consequences of negative self-talk
Most people don’t realize it, but as we go about our daily lives we are subconsciously interpreting every situation that arises–both big and small. We have an internal voice inside our mind that shapes our context surrounding what we are experiencing.
Some of our internal conversations can be negative, unrealistic, self-defeating and self-deprecating. We say things like, ‘I’m going to fail for sure’, or ‘I didn’t do well.’ I’m hopeless.’ ‘I’m useless.’
- A bad mood that stirs up negative thoughts.
- The habit of being overly critical which may stem from your childhood.
- Pessimism and always expecting the worst.
- Negative past experiences and the persistent belief that history repeats itself.
- Fear, anxiety, worries, depression and other negative mental tendencies that feed and perpetuate negative thinking.
The consequences of negative self-talk build over time. It’s like building a brick wall. Each time you engage in negative self-talk, you add a brick to the wall. Each brick by itself is fairly insignificant. But over time an impenetrable wall is constructed. Repeatedly berating yourself and believing the worse slowly sabotages you.
Thinking of yourself as clumsy, a loser, ugly, stupid, insignificant or worthless is an indicator that your self-talk is negative and you may be slowly orchestrating our own demise. Internal negativity makes you see yourself as irreparably flawed, inadequate or incompetent and as a result, your self-confidence is diminished.
Seeing yourself as hopeless, constantly blaming yourself whenever something goes wrong or dwelling on worst-case scenarios are all examples of exaggerated, negative thought patterns. And this kind of distorted thinking can cause you to spiral downward until you’re so far down you are unable to see or imagine anything positive.
Negative self-talk reinforces irrational ideas you already have. Each time you mentally rehearse negative phrases you strengthen those irrational beliefs and perceptions. And with time, your negativity gathers the strength to cripple–and in some cases– even kill you.
Happily, your pesky inner critic can be muzzled.
Ridding yourself of negative self-talk
- Identify the times when negative self-talk arises most often (a certain time of day, during a stressful event, following criticism, after being around certain people, etc.).
- Identify what triggered those thoughts.
- Counter your negative thoughts with positive–factual ones.
- Create yourself a script that you can use to counter negative thoughts as soon as they arise.
For example, when thoughts such as “I am worthless” arise, counter them with more realistic thoughts such as “my kids need me” or “my colleague values my work.” Each time you counter negative statements with positive facts, your negative thoughts lose power.
Try to view the situation objectively, like an outsider looking in and then try to determine what is best for that person (you) in that situation.
Repeating this cycle over and over trains your mind to seek out and focus on the positive. And slowly positive thoughts will become your default.
You can control your thoughts
Excessive amounts of self-criticism is counterproductive because it leads to hyper-focusing on failures and flaws and excludes the positives. You have power over how you perceive life and how you interact with it. The first step in being fulfilled and achieving your goals begins by training that small voice in your head to speak positivity.