We talk to ourselves all day long. Not necessarily out loud (though hey, sometimes that’s kind of fun), but via a quiet but constant stream of consciousness. Self-talk runs the gamut of positive, negative, and neutral. The balance of those factors is a practice that requires time and practice to equalize. To invest in positive self-talk is to train yourself to tend towards optimism.
The first step towards a productive relationship with self-talk is acknowledging that your self-talk comes from inside you. It is not an objective observation of your character. It’s something you are actively telling yourself. Ultimately, you are in charge of the stream of consciousness. Of course, sometimes it gets away from you. The longer that your stream of consciousness is allowed to rampage down an unchecked neural pathway, the harder it is to reel it in. If you are in a negative thought pattern, it’s most likely become a habit to give yourself over to it. When we get into a negativity loop, we are participating in a learned-response that has originated from hyper-critical self-talk. These voices aren’t benign. A lot of critical self-talk can lead to physical illness, anxiety, and reduced self-worth. Your relationship to yourself is expressed through this self-talk: being cruel or hard on yourself is an instrument of self-punishment. Even self-abuse.
What is most interesting about the tendency to be self-abusive is that we allow our inner voice to speak to us in a way we would never talk to a person we love and care for. The belief that we are worthy of compassion is something we assume for our friends and family, but don’t naturally offer ourselves. It can feel like offering yourself compassion is a selfish act — but that’s actually your negative self-talk speaking. Having a positive self-regard is a way of acknowledging the inherent confusion of the human experience, and a means of relaxing our rigid expectations. Having self-compassion is about tapping in to the same care that you would offer a child. It is an act of kindness that you will benefit from, and that makes you more able to extend yourself to your friends and loved ones.
Managing your self-talk begins with acknowledging your inherent polarity. You aren’t always going to feel great. You won’t always love yourself. That is okay. Positive self-talk isn’t about being unrelentingly positive. Rather, it is about building a reservoir of affirming, positive thoughts that you can refresh yourself with when you feel negativity creeping in. Begin by writing a script of your positive memories, thoughts, and traits, and recite it to yourself when you feel calm. The more accustomed you are to your script, the easier it will be to remember during times of distress.
The more open-hearted we are to ourselves, the more able we are to be available for and compassionate toward others. Positive self-talk is more than a form of self-care: it’s an ongoing self-maintenance that ensures you are in good working order. You owe it to yourself.
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