Who’s talking smack to whom? The first step to combat negative self-talk

We’re not doing so good, peeps. Remember when I first started the blog on this site? ‘Member when I mentioned that at least 1 in 4 women were taking antidepressants? Well, the stats haven’t changed in 3 years. It appears that large numbers of us are still in need of help to make life bearable.

Psychiatrist Julie Holland (author of Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy) wrote a New York Times article where she notes women between 35 and 65 are twice as likely as men to receive a diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression coupled with a prescription for a happy pill to “fix” the problem. She posits that it’s because women’s naturally emotional nature isn’t as acceptable as men’s less emotional one.

I agree with her that all our emotions should be valued – they have the very important job of exemplifying what is right or not in our worlds. I also agree that we shouldn’t be numbing ourselves to the more negative emotions we feel. Where I differ from Dr. Holland is that I think there’s more to the situation than simply doctors trying to numb us out so that we’re more man-like. I think she’s overlooking an important point and that is:

Just because we’re genetically wired to feel our emotions more easily then men doesn’t mean we actually want to feel the negative ones as much as we find ourselves feeling them.

And of course that begs the question: how often are we feeling negative emotions?

Now I could go off on a rant and blather on about how our negative feelings are justified 24/7. We are all super-busy. We’re  going in a million different directions and not getting enough sleep while having to deal with rude customer service, bad economies, wars, political elections, a day that some fool decided needed to end within 24 hours, teenage girls who feel it’s necessary to be walking definitions of attitude, bosses who really do want to be called God, employees who think the same about themselves, traffic jams, smelly dogs, itchy cats, blah blah blah.

But I’m not. Because I think that if we want to change our world, we gotta start with ourselves first. You know, just like when Ghandi said “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t saying that about fashion. 

Let me digress a minute . . . Recently, I was speaking on the phone with a friend. We have several things in common and one of those things is we are both positive thinkers. We are both people others come to when they need/want someone to lift their spirits or to remind them of how good they really are. Neither of us will let anyone we love (nor even people we only kind-of like) speak negatively about themselves. Yet both of us talk smack to ourselves all the time. And I bet you do, too. Don’t believe me? How many of these statements are things you say to yourself (even silently counts) on a regular basis:

  • I can never find my keys.
  • Ugh! I can’t believe I’m going to be late again. Why can’t I get out of bed earlier?
  • Of course I’m a pound heavier. I can never stick to a diet.
  • Why did I do that? That was really stupid!
  • I’m so unorganized!
  • What a pain in my neck!
  • Why am I doing this? I hate doing this.
  • If it’s not one thing happening, it’s another.
  • It’s just my luck.
  • There’s no chance in hell I’ll be able to do that.
  • I’m overwhelmed.
  • I don’t have enough time.
  • There are just too many things to do and not enough daylight to get them done.
  • I always get stuck behind the problem customer/bad driver.
  • I can’t believe I forgot to call/do/remember/(fill in the blank)
  • I’m having a bad hair day.
  • I can’t believe I burnt dinner, again.
  • I’m so tired.
  • I wish I knew how to do this better.
  • I wonder if my ass looks as big as I think it does in this dress? 

Now, do a content audit on your social media postings and text messages. Be honest with yourself and see how many of them say something nice about yourself compared to how many of them are complaints about the way things are going? Or how many are negative comments about how you’re handling life as it seems to be working out (e.g., I’m sick and tired of dealing with this!).

What studies have shown us is that Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live was right: what we tell ourselves matters. What we tell ourselves has a huge impact on how we feel not only about ourselves but about our lives, the people in it and the experiences we live through. So, if we’re talking smack about ourselves all the time, doesn’t it make sense that we frequently feel sad, depressed, or anxious? Or that we’d feel stressed and easily angered?

Just read through those sample sentences again and notice how you feel in your body. Are you tensing your stomach? Clenching your jaws? If so, you just had a visceral reaction to black marks on a white background. They’re just words – but see how powerful words can be?

And now, I’m giving you an assignment. As you go about your daily life for the next week, try and catch yourself in the act of thinking, saying or typing negative thoughts about yourself (and that includes your reaction to what you see in the mirror). Don’t beat yourself up for thinking them – that would only make matters worse. Just take the time to become aware of what you’re really saying to yourself.

And next week, I’ll have some exercises to help you stop thinking them and switch gears to more positive thoughts that will help you feel better about life and yourself. I promise!

(And no, you don’t have to stand in front of a mirror like Stuart!)

stuart smalley

Please feel free to share this column with anyone you think could use a boost!

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