“The emotions we feel, the events we experience, and our ability to interact with other humans are all controlled by language. If we want more control, and more agency in our lives we can start with a greater understanding of the potential power in what we say to ourselves and others.” Brendan McCaughey
“The pen is mightier than the sword.” stated by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for the express purpose of encouraging the use of communication to create lasting change versus the use of violence. The complexity of language and the use of words yields immense energy and power.
We can choose to use the power of words constructively or destructively, to hurt, to harm, to heal, and to encourage. Our linguistic ability refers to the capacity to use the spoken word, our language development, whereas vocabulary refers to the body of words we use and comprehend to communicate effectively. With effective communication, we have several types of vocabularies-listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Our listening vocabulary refers to the words we know so we understand what we hear. Our speaking vocabulary consists of the words we use when we speak. Our reading and writing vocabularies are used to comprehend what we read and also refers to the words we use to communicate when we write. Interestingly, these types of vocabularies are not inclusive. We hear, read, and write many more words than we use in everyday conversations.
Did you know we even have speech patterns? These patterns that are uniquely used by you, refer to the speed, tone, pronunciation, and grouping or sequencing of words or habits, to name a few. Have you noticed any patterns of speech you use when you get anxious or upset? Do you use words or a group of words, for example, ‘um’, ‘ like’, or ‘ like, you know,’ in a sentence without even realizing it?
We often see the external effects of the use of words too. Just check out the news or social media and there are tons of examples. But what about our internal dialogue? Do you contemplate the power of the words you use to describe yourself or talk to yourself? Is it negative? Is it positive? Do you have sets of internal speech patterns and use specific vocabulary?
What is negative self-talk? Any thought that diminishes your ability to make positive changes in your life or your confidence in yourself and the inner dialogue you have with yourself, that may be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities to reach your potential, is called negative self-talk. We all often speak to ourselves in subtle or obvious negative ways, sometimes without recognizing we are doing it. It is also defined as your communication with yourself that is unkind, unhelpful, or untrue-the inner critic. In her book “Talk To Yourself Like A Buddist”, author Cynthia Kane discusses how negative self-talk is actually self-judgment which creates unkindness towards yourself. Using a Buddist perspective, she provides mindful ways to create compassion through observation and suggestions for changing your internal dialogue through self-awareness.
She discusses how victims of abuse-emotional, mental and physical, often say they carry feelings of unworthiness and shame. As a result of their subjective feelings, the negative self-talk that develops out of these experiences can be very subtle, pervasive, and impact many areas of their lives. When you believe you aren’t enough or that you won’t have enough then negative self-talk is not far away.
Here are some categories with some examples of negative self-talk statements:
- Overreaction: “Everything is terrible!”
- Personalization: Why is this happening to me?!”
- Absolute language: “I am a bad person.”
- Assumption: “He/She thinks I’m not good enough!”
- Expectation: “This is how it’s supposed to be!”
- Comparison: “Why can’t I be like ( )?”
- Regret: “If I hadn’t done that.. then… ”
- Shaming: I should be able to do( )! or I should have done( )!
Did you know that listening to negative language can block the brain’s natural de-stress mechanisms? Having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations and reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. Would you consider saying to your loved ones what your inner critic says to you? Are you tired of listening to the negative thoughts?
What can you do to change the voices in your head? Observing and listening to what your inner critic says and when it shows up is one of the first steps towards recognizing patterns. What type of language or statements does your inner critic use? Where does your negative self-talk manifest the most? Are there situations that cause your negative self-talk to increase?
You may want to journal or list these observations for further reflection. Documenting these statements for your review may be very insightful and surprising.
Questioning and changing your inner critic and the negative self-talk. Once you have your list or journal information, you can then decide what approach works best to change your inner dialogue. Does your negative self-talk fit into any of the categories and look anything like the statements above? What forms does your negative self-talk look like?
One option for creating change is taking each of the negative statements and rewriting it into a positive statement. Begin repeating these positive statements or affirmations to yourself as soon as you notice your negative thought. Positive words strengthen the frontal lobe of the brain and promote cognitive function. Simply meaning that hearing and using positive words and using positive language can make you feel great-mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Questioning the negative self-talk can be helpful as well. Use these questions on the information gained from your list or journal. What am I telling myself? What is the purpose of the negative self-talk here? Is there any evidence to support this thought? Is the thought factual or just my version and interpretation?
As you begin to question and observe your negative self-talk it takes you out of the repetitive behavior and can begin a shift in the frequency in which it occurs. It takes persistence and practice to change your thought patterns. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have a negative thought, however using these tools, means you will be able to recognize your patterns when you do.
Practicing positivity isn’t about disregarding the unfortunate nature of any situation, but instead acknowledging that you will find a way around it which increases your feelings of empowerment.
Changing your negative self-talk may include some benefits such as:
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Increased life span
- Improved mental and physical well-being
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
You may consider simple changes to your everyday language too. For instance, replacing, “I have to d0(_)” instead say, “ I get to do(_).” This simple change implies you get to have a choice in your decisions rather than being forced into ones, not of your choosing. Empowerment at its best is your ability to recognize you have a choice.
A little effort and self-observation can create lasting positive changes in your inner dialogue. The real power lies in your words and how you use them. They are a confirmation to the world, how you see others, your life, and yourself.