The thoughts that rumble through your head – the ones inciting anger over what someone did to you, depressing you about what you can’t control, igniting and incensing your ethical sense over the cruelty and disregard of others – aren’t helping you.
You might believe you are entitled to the negative self-talk. You might actually enjoy wallowing in it sometimes in order to justify and confirm you are right, but it gives you nothing and takes so much of your life away.
Negative self-talk doesn’t just stay in your mind, it often leads to actions you might sometimes regret. It might encourage you to “tell that other person off,” or “refuse to be taken advantage of,” or “quit this stupid boss”, or it might lead to a destructive relationship, or a breakdown in family relations, or isolating yourself from a long-time friend or relative because it helps you to justify that this is the right thing to do. Maybe it's to protect yourself, maybe to get justice, or maybe just because the pain of the negative self-talk is so deep you just simply have to do something.
Unfortunately in many cases, even when people see the destructive nature of the self-talk, they aren’t willing to let go of it. It can be comforting. It can be confirming. It can give you a false sense of purpose. What most people don’t see is that all negative self-talk does is steal. It steals your attention from the present, by helping you stay stuck in the past. It steals your happiness because you can’t focus on the good things when your mind is clouded by the negatives. It steals your relationships, your hopes, your opportunity for better things.
Negative self-talk gets you in its grip and does everything possible to keep you trapped. Whether it be fear over what could happen, stress over what you need to do and how you will do it, anger over the way you have been treated, upset over the way of the world, frustration over a friend or partner’s actions – it transmits in a myriad of ways and in dozens and dozens of topics. The underlying thread is that your focus and attention are on what’s wrong, not on enjoying your now and living an unencumbered life.
You might already be thinking, “But you don’t know my troubles!” Everyone is carrying a burden. Some people are asked to deal with more than others, but each and every human being experiences pain. Think about the people who overcome unrealistic odds to accomplish something and the ones who have been given everything in life and are still miserably unhappy. It is not the circumstances – it is your reaction and responses to what occurs.
Turning negative self-talk to something more neutral or positive takes work and focus. It’s the natural state to default to negativity. It seems more comfortable to stay stuck. If you want to release yourself from the pain of your own self-talk, there are some things you can do:
- First step: be aware. The longer you spend defending your right to be negative, and to inform others they just don’t understand your pain, the longer you keep yourself from a more pleasant and contented life. Recognize that these thoughts don’t serve you. They don’t bring you joy. They don’t move you forward. They simply keep you stuck. Choose to acknowledge their presence, and acknowledge their destructiveness.
- Next, have a plan to counter negative self-talk with something more soothing. You don’t have to insert a false sense of positivity if you don’t believe it; your mind will reject anything that isn’t true for you. Instead, just learn to move to a neutral state. Can you develop a mantra you like, a poem, saying, or words from a song that comfort and inspire you? Sometimes the act of replacing the negative spool that runs over and over again with something more neutral breaks the cycle.
- Consider making a list of the things you have in your life that make you content and happy. What goes “right” for you? After you write down this list, pull it out and read it over and over again until you are comforted that things are really okay. They might not be great and you may still have to deal with things you don’t want to, but your focus is on the good, not what you don’t want.
- Most importantly, refrain from acting on negative self-talk. See if you can move to objectivity instead of emotion. What are the facts of the situation? What will the impact be on you if you choose to deal with things differently? What choices do you have? Going into a state of facts, data and objective viewpoints often diminishes the sting of emotion associated with negative states.
Learning to release yourself from the negative ties that bind you to unhappiness will free up time in your life to do things you care about and focus on what matters most to you.