One of the most effective ways to create a healthy mindset is to weed whack your negative self-talk. You know, that head chatter that probably led to a nasty core belief or two. Tackling basic beliefs about ourselves is a daunting task but well worth the effort.
Here is a piece of my story. One day while I was lost in a cooking storm I left the baking cupboard door open at a precarious angle. My hubby said, “One of these days you are going to whack your eye right out.” Immediately, my old self-talk kicked in:
- “You are stupid!” This self-talk is a result of repeatedly being told by my father, at a tender age, “You are stupid”.
- But next, my mind training challenged this old, core belief. I asked myself: “Is that true? No! I can learn to cook safely. I will merely close the cupboard door.”
Some professionals call this mind change healing. In the above vignette the change worked like this:
Negative Self-talk/Core Belief: Nurturing Self-talk/New Belief:
“You are stupid.” to “I can learn.”
Both of the above thoughts have incredible power. As the author, Robert Fulghum wrote, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” Fortunately, we can strengthen our resilience by monitoring and filtering the words we receive from others and our own self-talk. I wish it was as easy as hitting the DELETE button on wounding messages and savoring the nourishing ones.
What my sweetie said about hitting the cupboard door was not verbal abuse, but an expression of concern. His comment triggered an old, visceral memory. He innocently fired up an established neural brain pathway.
The Planting Seed Metaphor for Self- Talk
Here is another way to consider what happened. Thoughts are like seeds that get planted in the mind. One day when our daughter, Kelly and I were philosophizing she said, “We are not responsible for our initial thoughts. But we are responsible for how long we focus on them, act on them or do nothing.”
The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Concept of Self-Talk
Most therapists have been trained in CBT. It provides a problem-solving approach to change your thinking and/or your behavior. The end result is usually feeling uplifted.
If we linger on a negative thought or it hits us at a vulnerable moment or it is uttered by a powerful role model it can become rooted in our unconscious as a deep, core belief. This is particularly true if the defining moment was in our childhoods. Beliefs ground our actions. Let’s spell that out.
- Situation: words are sent or something happens that stimulates a thought. The younger we are when the message is sent and received the more unconscious it can become.
- The thought is planted and nurtured.
- Repeated self-talk creates a rooted belief in the unconscious mind with attached strong feelings.
- Reaction (behavior) follows.
Notice that this pattern works for thought messages that are critical, put-down, judging, discouraging, attacking, shaming and blaming, as well as, respectful, acknowledging, self-esteem building, appreciative, empathic, compassionate and encouraging.
At some point, my father’s message of “You are stupid” became my message to myself as in, “I am stupid.” Eventually, it became a core belief. That belief resulted in repeating an elementary school grade and dropping out of high school. It was Rene Descartes who said, “I think, therefore I AM.” My “I AM” was “I AM stupid.”
In essence, we deepen a belief by repetition. The self-help author Robert Collier wrote, “Any thought that is passed on to the subconscious often enough and convincingly enough is finally accepted.” The good news is that the unconscious can be reprogrammed by awareness and effort.
The freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood include our thought patterns. We are free to choose our thoughts and responsible for doing so. Reprogramming my belief system included asking “Is that true?” Often the following thought is helpful, “That was Dad’s hang-up. He did not finish grade eight. I can choose to make his story mine or not. I can decide what to believe about myself. I choose to believe, I am intelligent in my own unique way.”
5 Steps to Transform Negative Self-talk
- Notice your self-talk.
- Name those wounding and destructive self-talk and core beliefs. Write them down.
- Say to yourself, “Stop!” Ask yourself, “Is that true?”
- Increase your nourishing and supportive thoughts. Write those down too. Even post them.
- Make healthy and vibrant action choices based on your improved and nourishing self-talk
As the pioneer in positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
Here is a list of core beliefs to help you with the process:
Negative Self-talk/Core Belief: Nurturing Self-talk/Core Belief:
I am inadequate. I am capable.
I am worthless. I am loveable.
I am in danger. I can keep myself safe.
I am powerless. I control my life.
I am a failure. I can succeed.
I am unloved. I am lovable.
I am selfish. I know what is important to me.
I am lazy. I seek my purpose.
I have to be perfect. I can learn and value mistakes.
I did something wrong. I did my best and I learned.
Be easy on yourself. If you have spent fifteen or more years growing a weed-like garden in your unconscious mind, take your time clearing it out. Newly planted thoughts will require cultivation, time and attention. Be persistent and vigilant. You deserve a vibrant bouquet.
PS: Arranging for at least six counseling sessions can be very helpful in naming and calming negative self-talk and core beliefs. If you do the work you will find yourself nourishing some empowering core beliefs.
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC
Helping her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience.
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