Why Self-Talk Matters
How we speak of ourselves makes a difference. Here’s how we can be more intentional with our self-talk.
A few weekends ago a family member said to me “I have always had sleep problems” with such confidence that “I have and will always have sleep problems.” No big deal. Someone else told me “I’m just a sad person, that’s who I am.” Ahhh!! So then does that mean she will always have sleep problems? Will the other person always be sad? No no no! We need to break free from these dead, hopeless thoughts and learn how to think, feel, and speak life-giving and hope-feeling words. It doesn’t always have to be this way!
These thoughts and feelings are so innocent and seem so small that we don’t even notice them. But they take away our hope. So, I want to talk about a few phrases that can lead to our hope slipping away without us even knowing it.
“I have always been this way.”
When we say something like this, our sense of self crumbles in those moments. “My mom/dad/family member/etc. has always been this way”. There is no growth, hope, or opportunity for change. If “I have always been depressed” communicates I will always be depressed. There is no window, no opportunity, no place for depression to leave.
Try this instead: It’s better to say “I have been struggling with depression symptoms for about 10 years and I really want to beat it”. This is speaking the truth – the reality of the depression symptoms AND the hope that you want to be free. Identify what you desire and what will allow you to thrive and not just survive.
“Always”, “Never”, “No one”, “Everyone”.
When we use these extremes or absolutes in sentences we take something little and we make it big. We often use them for emphasis on a certain situation but when they are attached to our mental health or others it’s destructive.
Try this Instead: When you notice yourself saying those words, backup and recognize the facts. Most of the time we are exaggerating the facts when we use them. Instead of “I have always had depression” say the facts of the situation, not ignoring the truth of your symptoms. “I have been struggling with depression symptoms off and on for 10 years now and I want to beat it” is all true and doesn’t intensify it and make your situation worse. Yes, it’s still difficult, but it’s the facts and there is hope in your truth.
“I can’t”, “I won’t”, “You shouldn’t”.
This is an easy slip that we say without realizing it. It’s habitual. My husband is a very funny and witty guy and often says things to get a laugh but not realizing the power in them. One common comment he will joke about is: “I don’t read”. This joke and comment is helpless and creates a victimhood mindset. There’s little freedom out for the person who says it and the person who receives it. He’s made up his mind and that’s it.
Try this Instead: We need to move to a more empowered vocabulary – from victimhood to empowered action. What if my husband is an excellent reader? What if there is so much to be gained and insight to grow from him shifting his vocabulary? He could say “I didn’t grow up reading and my teachers didn’t believe I could but now I am changing that. I want to read and love the growth that’s happening within me when I read”. In defense of him, I have seen a change in this helpless vocabulary and he will listen to books on tape that he is passionate about. There is hope!
“I’m so busy.”
This communicates so many things like how you are so important or that you have more going on than other people. The biggest problem this statement has on your mental health is that it cuts you off from seeing different priorities and possibilities. When you say “I’m so busy” it means that you don’t have any capacity to be at peace and think about things that really matter like love, joy, peace, family, etc.
Try this Instead: The most important thing you can do for your mental health is slow down and be at peace, even if it’s for 5 minutes. Then the next time someone asks you how you are you can answer more clearly, honestly, and peacefully. How about something like, “Oh I’m doing well. We brought the kids to school this week and had a great weekend up north spending time outside. I was a little unsure of a new school but it’s gone well so far.” What this does is open up what is possible and what was done – the joy of your life. Even if you “feel” busy and stressed in moments, we need to stop saying this.
“I have depression”, “I have anxiety.”
Don’t get me on my soapbox about this one!! I feel very alone communicating (but so passionate!!) about this. People struggle so much more with mental health symptoms simply because of being diagnosed. I understand insurance requires it to be able to use your benefits, but we don’t need to use this language in our mind and out loud to other people.
Try this Instead: You are NOT “depression”. You are NOT “anxiety”. You are a person, a beautiful human being made to thrive and have a purpose in this world. A better way to communicate your struggles is “I have been struggling with depression symptoms this weekend and spent more time in bed than I would have liked” or “the anxiety symptoms stopped me from going out with my friends”. What this does is externalize the symptoms so it separates the symptoms from your identity. It doesn’t ignore the problem, but brings hope and empowerment to your identity instead of focusing on the problem.
“Don’t tell them I told you, but…”
When you say this, you are giving people a clear-cut reason to never tell you anything of significance because you’ll spread it around. It’s this desire and joy for gossip. You are not to be trusted.
Try this Instead: Get rid of gossip and the desire for it. Notice the harm it causes. Notice how it feels when you hear someone has gossiped about you. It’s hard at first but then is so much more peaceful. Do you want to be a trusted person? Don’t gossip and don’t tell secrets to others.
One word that should be eliminated (that almost everyone uses) is “but.” When someone asks you how your day is going, do you say, “It’s okay, but…”? If you genuinely feel the need to share a negative thought or emotion with someone, do it sparingly. Not only are you taking yourself down and out, but energetically you are doing the same for the people listening to you.
Try this Instead: Use the word “and” instead. It’s empowering.
After reading this some of you may want to argue with me. “Well that IS the way it is” or “I AM depressed”. What I would invite you to do is be open to a different way of thinking that will bring healing for you. “I AM depressed” is how you “feel”. Feelings don’t last forever and feelings can lie to us and send us into an emotional tailspin. Remember what led to the feelings – judgments and lying thoughts that don’t need to be there. Do you want to be mentally healthy? Do you want to feel peace, joy, and love? Then try noticing if you say these phrases and break free from them. Start to notice how they make you feel and what happens when you eliminate them. What I’ve observed is that people are so used to the way they are, that they don’t know what it’s like to even feel hopeful, to get out of that hole of despair. Breaking free of thinking and saying these phrases may help a little. It’s empowering to create new healthy habits to improve our mental health.
“It only takes one negative comment to kill a dream.”
“If you cannot be positive then at least be silent.”
“Negative words are like powerful boomerangs so be careful what you say about others and yourself.”
-Mary J. Blige