How to heal from negative self-talk

Young woman looks at the mirror and sees her happy reflection. Self-acceptance and confidence concept.

Article by Sarah Wheeler

Many of us have heard the trope: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

I call B.S on that mindless phrase. These words are trotted out as an attempt to brush off and minimise the long lasting harm that is caused with unkind words from one person to another.

But what if the unkind words do not come from another person’s unkind mouth? What if they are unkind words said to yourself from yourself hour after hour, day after day sometimes for as long as we can remember?

That my friend, is negative self-talk.

Silly me. I’m such an idiot.  I always mess stuff up. I should have known I wouldn’t get the promotion.I’m not clever enough. I’m not brave enough. I’m not skinny enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not exciting enough.I’m not strong enough. It’s all my fault. I’m not good enough. I’m not enough.

Ouch. Do you recognise any of those? I do. I have said various versions of deeply unfriendly self chatter to myself more than I have soothed myself with kind words. Even if I was already hurting post argument/break up/ or after missing out on a job, or when I needed self compassion the most after a panic attack, my mind would unleash the harsh self-talk tirade. I am a survior of sexual violence, and healing from that experience showed me that my self talk could become very nasty.

Just be kinder to yourself my friends would say.

I don’t know how. I replied.

Humans cannot stay well if we are under attack from harsh behaviour, especially when we inflict this harsh behaviour upon ourselves through the scratchy, broken record of negative self talk.

Healing from our self-inflicted verbal assaults is possible. Healing has its root in the word ‘whole’. When we say things about ourselves like it must somehow be my fault that they cheated or I was must be deluded to think I could have got that job, we are saying to ourselves and to others that there must be something wrong with us, that something is broken which speaks to the possibility that not only we may be holding ourselves in very low regard, but that we believe we are not whole, lacking in something which would make us good enough. Whatever good enough means…

How did we develop such an unkind inner dialogue about ourselves? Our social media obsessed culture is designed to reinforce the human negativity bias, that’s the ingrained habit of focussing on the shi**y things people say and forgetting the positives. However deep rooted negative self-talk is connected to developmental trauma, for example not having our emotional needs met in childhood. This has so much to do with how our childhood caregivers spoke to us.

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Picture the scene. I felt my nerves jangle as I witnessed a small child crying because she was frightened of the waves at the beach. Her brother wanted to jump in and play. Caregiver (mum, I assume) is shouting at the little girl.

Stop being silly. You’re pathetic. You’re ruining this for me and your brother.

Little girl cries even harder. She begins to shake.

Silly. Pathetic. Ruining things.

Children internalise what is said about them. When we are under 7 years old and while we still (and appropriately for this developmental stage) believe that the world revolves around us, we believe and hang on to the negative press which caregivers extol on to us. If we did not receive soothing compassion from those we relied on when our little selves were frightened, and at this young age when we struggle to self soothe, the grooves on the negative self-talk record start to set in. We believe the lies which were said about us.

I wished I had gone to the crying child and said you are not pathetic, or silly and you are not ruining things.

Fast forward twenty years and the little girl is now a woman. She is project managing a team but things are not going to plan.She is frustrated at herself that somehow she can’t get this project off the ground.

I’m pathetic. She says to herself. How come I seem to always mess stuff up?

The pain of the words which were said to us can run deep. The pain can spill over into our adult lives impacting our self esteem and resulting in a lack of compassion offered to ourselves when we make totally acceptable human mistakes or when proverbial sh*t hits the fan.

We can release the repetitive drone of negative self talk initially by becoming aware of how we speak to ourselves. We could recognise in what scenarios we speak particularly harshly to ourselves. You might ask yourself, would I be saying this same unkind thing to a friend if they shared their upset with me? If the answer is no, then why am I saying it to myself?

Sometimes it helps to put all our self-inflicted bad press down on paper by scribbling what is on our minds so it does not stay pent up in our bodies. I like to burn the paper that I’ve scribbled on.

We can offer ourselves solace by trying some meditation. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not meant to stop our thoughts but instead gives us a chance to notice our inner dialogue without getting tangled up in our negative thoughts. Mindful, calming yoga can also help to give the overly busy mind a break.

Take a social media break.

Therapy can help to acknowledge and release the wounds of childhood which keep us speaking unkindly to ourselves in adulthood.

Take care of your inner little child and speak sweetly to her.

Whether your inner critic buys it or not, you are enough. I promise.

About the author

Sarah Wheeler is an advocate for women recovering from the wounds of Patriarchy. She is a Reiki Teacher, Yoga Teacher, Author and founder of You’re Enough Yoga in Hove, East Sussex. Sarah’s book Shadow and Rose: A Soulful Guide for Women Recoering from Rape and Sexual Violence is out. She is in her greatest joy when empowering women to uncover the medicine of deep rest through Yoga and Reiki, revealing the truth of being enough; just as we are.

Sarah Wheeler
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