We all have what we call self-talk or an internal dialogue and it can be either negative or positive. People who struggle with their self-esteem are often plagued with negative self-talk. It comes in thoughts like, “Why did you do that? That was so stupid,” or “She didn’t smile at me. She must not like me because I’m a loser.” One great way to combat this type of thinking is to talk back to your thoughts using what I call the Kevin McCallister method. In the movie Home Alone, Kevin is plagued by fear when he goes into the basement and hears the noise of the dreaded furnace, and his imagination gets carried away with fearful thoughts. At some point later in the movie, Kevin speaks back to his thoughts and the furnace and says, “Shut up,” and the fearful thoughts stop. You can do the same thing by saying “Stop” to your thoughts. This can cause a break in your thinking so that you can think more positive thoughts in that moment.
Another method of dealing with negative self-talk is to replace negative thoughts with better thoughts. For example, if you think, “I’m stupid,” it’s important to find better thoughts to think such as “I make mistakes, but that does not mean that I’m not intelligent.” Realizing how destructive these negative thoughts are is important too. If you tell yourself these things long enough you will believe them. It always amazes me how a different way of looking at things can help a person feel better about themselves.
One common way that our thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy is that we act in a way that is consistent with what we believe about ourselves. Here is a common scenario: In a social setting a person begins to feel out of place because no one is talking to them. They begin to think, “No one is talking to me because I’m not likeable.” This thought causes them to not engage in conversation with others that would actually prove that this thought is not true. In fact, people tend to pick up on the negativity of this person and react to it by not engaging that person.
That same situation could have ended up completely different if that person thought about themselves and others differently. If that person thought, “I can’t expect people to initiate conversations all the time. I can be confident in who I am,” the outcome would be much different when they acted on it.
This is where it’s important to realize that your thoughts not only determine what you do, but also spills over into how people see you through your behaviour. If you think negative thoughts about yourself, you will face negativity or at the very least eliminate the possibility of some positive experiences. Conversely, if you think positive thoughts about yourself chances are you will begin to act differently. There is an important connection between how we act and our self-esteem. If we act in ways that exude confidence while thinking confident thoughts our self-esteem begins to increase.
This point reaches a bit further beyond your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and others to a more philosophical point. Does anyone criticize a baby for not being smart enough or strong enough or for being dependent on other people? No, of course not. We recognize the inherent value of a baby that has nothing to do with the superficial value judgements of what society deems as being important. Human beings are intrinsically valuable not because of what they do or qualities they possess, but for who they are. When we come to this realization we can begin to stop judging ourselves on superficial aspects of our lives and inherited traits that we have no control over. For example, if you relied heavily on your intelligence for your sense of self-esteem, and were in a car accident where you lost a large amount of your cognitive abilities would you still be a person of value? I believe so. The next time you feel tempted to evaluate yourself or someone else based on these standards, stop. Intelligence is nice to have, but it definitely does not determine someone’s worth.
Therapist / Counsellor
Focus:Couple, Family and Individual Therapy; Teens and Children; Conflict Resolution; Communication; Parenting, Family Dysfunction, Intimacy/Closeness, Self-Esteem, Grief, Anger Management, Forgiveness, Trauma from Abuse and Spiritual Issues