What makes you think you’ll ever be able to change?
There you go again messing up like you always do – you are such a loser...
These painful words were spoken by an intelligent, kind, hard-working, 36-year-old schoolteacher and mother of three young children and shared during a conference I recently attended. She was not recounting an actual conversation but reading an excerpt of her “self-talk” recorded after overindulging at a family birthday celebration.
Self-talk is a person’s internal dialogue – words said silently or aloud usually regarding one’s behavior or feelings. It can be positive or negative; it is rarely neutral. Positive self-talk can be motivational, often used by athletes or entertainers during performances. More often, self-talk is negative and destructive, filled with language that is overly critical, harsh, rigid, exaggerated and dismissive.
Many people engage in self-talk with limited understanding or awareness of how it affects their well-being. Some of it is unconscious and can influence interpersonal behavior, perceptions, beliefs and the hope one has for the future. This internal dialogue and the various attitudes it engenders can impact symptoms of addictive, mood and anxiety disorders.
There are various ways to become more aware of self-talk and make a concerted effort to contain the negative voice while strengthening the positive. One of these is cultivating self-compassion. Individuals and their family members benefit from becoming less judgmental and intentionally more compassionate about themselves and others.
In the example above, the conference presenter told us her client became more aware of how easily she comforted loved ones and her students whenever they made mistakes or had setbacks. She would encourage them and enable them to recognize all the positive strides they had made. She was able to recognize how this lack of negative judgment enabled them to continue to move forward despite any new obstacles. However, she also recognized that her own harsh words toward herself were often shaming, cruel and mainly served to perpetuate rather than change her behavior. “I am not perfect, but I am also not a loser, I am just me,” she would often say as she continued to progress in her recovery.
Being able to see yourself in a compassionate light is more challenging than it sounds. There are a number of helpful treatment approaches and modalities that can foster this development.