There are so many ways that your self-talk can add to your life or subtract to it. In this article, I’ll explain two types of mind games your self-talk can play with you: negative self-description and bias against yourself. Let’s start with negative self-description.
Layla self-talks using negative self-descriptions to put herself down. She thinks, “I must be awful at my job since my boss never compliments my work.” She tells herself, “I’ll never be good enough to get promoted” when she finds out about a new position that has opened up. When she makes a mistake at work, Layla thinks, “I’m a total failure.”
When Layla tells herself she’s a failure when she makes one mistake at work, she’s generalizing that one mistake to defining who she is as a person. This is a giant leap and one that people with low self-confidence make often.
Words like “loser,” “failure,” “stupid,” wimp,” “ugly,” “not good enough,” and “useless” are all ways to be unkind to yourself. The way to combat this is to use verbs instead of adjectives to describe what happened. Instead of saying, “I’m a failure at work,” you can say, “I made a mistake with those figures.” It simply means that out of the thousands of times you worked with numbers, this particular time you made a mistake. And realize that the great majority of the time, you are exactly correct.
“I must be awful at my job since my boss never compliments my work.”
“I think I’d better highlight the victories. I know I’m doing a great job, so I have to let her know.”
Bias Against Yourself
Violet sees the world as a rigid hierarchy and spends a lot of time and energy comparing herself with others to see how she measures up to them. Her sense of self-confidence rises when she thinks she compares well, and it plummets when she evaluates herself poorly. She compares herself to everyone she knows and she does it all the time. She’s constantly rating people as better or worse than her, emphasizing the differences. Generally, she comes out thinking she’s the inferior one.
When Violet is introduced to a friend of a friend, she thinks, “She’s prettier than I am. Look at how gracefully she holds herself. But I bet I make more money than she does. Still, she does have a good job. She probably has more men asking her out for dates.”
While we need to compare ourselves with others to a certain extent to see how we fit into our workplace and our social environment and evaluate how to become more like the people we admire, when it becomes a habit, it can destroy your self-confidence.
It’s better to note the differences and then forget about them. Don’t allow a judgment to follow. The other person’s successes and failures are not a reflection of your worth. If someone truly is better at something than you are, ask them how they became so successful and what advice they may have for you. Also, think about how you both are similar. You may very well find that there are many more similarities than differences and be able to relate on those levels more easily.
“She’s prettier than I am. Look at how gracefully she holds herself. But I bet I make more money than she does. Still, she does have a good job. She probably has more men asking her out on dates.”
“She’s a pretty woman. I like how she holds herself so gracefully. She most likely has a good job. Good for her! She might make more money than me. I wonder if she knows any eligible men for me to date.”
See the difference? With your old self-talk, you assume the worst about yourself. You reinforce a disapproving view of yourself, always being in the wrong. With the new self-talk, you know you can work with the situation, no matter what’s happened. You focus more on what went right or what could go right in the future and have confidence that you can make things better for yourself and others.
When you’re developing alternative thoughts to the negative automatic ones, you can acknowledge that things didn’t go as well as you had wanted but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
If your self-confidence is not elevated, you’ve repeated a negative core belief thousands and thousands of times to yourself. It will take some time of repeating your new self-talk many times before your inner self begins to believe it.
When you encounter a situation where your old self-talk rears its ugly head, remind yourself that the original core belief is based on false, inaccurate information and that the new, more positive self-talk based on your new core belief is the one that’s accurate and true.
Make four columns, one entitled “Negative Self-Talk,” one entitled “Error,” one entitled “Positive Self-Talk,” and the last entitled “Actions.” Under each column write out the negative thoughts about yourself in your mind, which pattern of error it is, a new thought that reinforces your self-esteem, and what new actions you’ll take as a result of changing to more positive self-talk.