Conversational Negative Self-talk

By: Skye Thomas

Most people don't even know they're doing it. Throughout the course of normal conversation, they bombard themselves with negative self-talk. Even people who are aware of the power of their words seem to miss some of the most commonly used derogatory comments that are made towards ourselves in the course of normal conversation. While plotting out goals and dreams we remember to stop ourselves from saying statements like "I can't," "I'm not good enough," or "I'll never be able to pull this off." However, it's the subtle little things that we say while on conversational autopilot that eats away at our self-confidence.

How many times have you heard someone in a conversation admit that they were misinformed in the past saying, "Oops, I lied." Lying by definition is a deliberate and sometimes malicious intent to deceive another. If you were wrong, misinformed, or made a bad assumption, but honestly believed you were giving factual information at the time, then it was NOT a lie. You are not a liar. You did not deliberately deceive the other person. Do not use a negative term like "lied" to describe yourself. Say, "Oops, I misunderstood." "Oops, I made a bad assumption." Or, "Oops, I was wrong." Unless you actually did it on purpose, it's not a lie and you shouldn't call yourself a liar. It amazes me how many people say "I lied!" repeatedly during normal conversation as if they are habitual liars or something. It's a derogatory word. Don't use it unless you really meaning it.

My daughter was telling me about a friend of hers that she was talking on the telephone with the other night. They were going over a tough homework assignment together. Every time my daughter's friend realized that she had written down the wrong answer, on autopilot she would say, "Oh, I'm stupid." Over and over without even realizing it, she kept calling herself stupid. She said it ten or fifteen times within an hour long conversation. Funny thing is this girl isn't stupid, she just thinks she is and acts accordingly.

If she was my daughter, I'd make her quit saying that all of the time. My children were taught never to call themselves such things. My daughter's friend is really quite normal. I'm always hearing people say that or they'll say the equivalent, "I'm dumb" or "that was dumb" in reference to themselves. Stupid and dumb are interchangeable.

Sometimes the negative comments are disguised as humor. "I'm just a stupid guy," "Oh well, what do you expect from a dumb blonde," or "I think my mom dropped me one too many times as a baby!" The fact that they feel a need to make excuses for themselves means that they have low self-confidence.

It's a subtle and difficult pattern to break. A lot of people do it without noticing that they're even doing it. It's said with the same automatic presentation as the "Fine, thanks." That always follows "How are you?" I would recommend that you ask someone to help you with it. For example, in speech classes they will get on you for saying things like um, ya' know, or soooooo. These are fillers that we put into speeches to fill the gaps when we're nervous. We don't know we're doing it until we have someone point it out to us consistently. After awhile, the speech students begin to hear themselves and stop themselves from saying these filler phrases. I would recommend doing the same thing to help each other out of conversational negative self-talk.

My daughter came home from school a couple of months ago and every other word was 'like.' Like there was this kid at school and like they were like so out of control! The teacher like had to like send them to the office because like they wouldn't sit down and like respect the class. I giggled to myself as I stood there fixing dinner and listening to her 13-year-old lingo. I asked her if she knew how much she was saying 'like.' She argued that she wasn't saying it. Just like a lot of people would argue that they aren't' guilty of negative self-talk. So, as she carried on her conversation for the next few minutes, I just said, "like" right after she did. Over and over, I'd just quietly say, "like" until we were both able to laugh together. She was quickly able to alter her speech patterns once she was forced into awareness.

It can really be that simple. Offer to help your friend to overcome their automated negative comments by playing the same game with them. If they are guilty of saying a particular derogatory statement repeatedly, then offer to help them to break the pattern. If you can admit to yourself that you are one of those people who says negative things about yourself without even really thinking about it, then ask someone to help you to stop. You would be amazed at how quickly you can stop the behavior if someone will just make you take notice. Self-awareness is the key to ending negative self-talk.

If you are too embarrassed to ask for help, or you don't have anyone that you would trust enough to help you, then you're going to have to make a huge effort to become more aware of the words you speak during casual conversation. It's much more difficult, but still doable. Imagine that the negative statements are cuss words. You wouldn't want to throw those kinds of words out around your boss would you? You wouldn't want to use them around children would you? You wouldn't use them around your grandma would you? Attach the same 'no way!' attitude to those negative self-talk statements. Start really listening to yourself. There's really no need to beat yourself up when you catch yourself rattling off these statements, just take notice and make a promise to yourself that you'll stop. Keep noticing, until you do stop.

Copyright 2004, Skye Thomas, Tomorrow's Edge

Self Improvement and Motivation
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