Your self-talk is a symptom of the underlying problem
by Heather Thatcher
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We follow so many habits in our day. We get up and check our phones without stopping to think “what should I do first?” and we brush our teeth, maybe make some coffee all without thinking.
Our habits also apply to our self-talk.
When we have a triggering event, like an awkward conversation or something not going as planned, our brain automatically jumps into our predetermined patterns, and our self-talk follows.
But the truth is our self-talk is actually just the symptom of the underlying problem.
Underneath that self-talk is a core belief that our brain uses to filter and interpret messages. Have you ever noticed when you do a presentation, and four people come up to you and say what an excellent job you did, but then one person says “meh, I’ve seen better” and it’s really challenging to let go of that one person’s negativity?
Often this is because we have a little voice that is telling us that we’re not good enough, or could do better. That little voice is the core belief that then leads to the negative self-talk that you hear.
But our inner critic is sneaky.
Sometimes our negative self-talk is very clear. We call ourselves names, we’re hard on ourselves for not living up to our expectations, and we beat ourselves up in our minds, which leaves us feeling defeated and low.
Sometimes, though, it’s not this obvious.
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I used to struggle with a core belief that I was terrible with communication. But it wasn’t clear to me what happened and why this core belief had formed. That’s a crucial part to healing the unwanted self-talk patterns is to understand where they started, and then look for evidence that proves them wrong.
Growing up I was already shy to begin with, but when this belief started to take hold, I became even quieter.
I remember the first time someone laughed at me for asking a question. It was in grade one, I was six years old, and I asked for help with an art project we were working on.
We were doing something about horses and wagons, and I don’t really remember much about what we were making really, but there was a point in the project after you’d coloured in your horses and cut out the wagon pieces that you needed an adult to help you attach the two of them with this fancy brass thingie so it would be able to move. I hope I’m describing it well enough.
So when I got to that point where I needed help, I asked the parent volunteer who was talking with my teacher to help me “hitch my horses.”
Because that’s what we were doing, right?
Obviously, they thought it was funny, and they both laughed and then helped me, but I was MORTIFIED. I didn’t understand what I said wrong. And my self-talk started thinking of how I should have said it differently.
And so I started to keep my questions, my thoughts inside. I got so used to not voicing my ideas that I struggled to talk with friends because I didn’t know how to find that break in the conversation to join in.
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Fast-forward a little bit, and I was writing longer papers that needed editing, and our teachers encouraged us to get them to proofread. I would pour my heart into my work but found the proofreading process a little harsh.
If you’ve been around my corner of the internet, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I wear my vulnerability on my sleeve. So when I was receiving a critique of my work, my interpretation of this was that is was a personal attack.
Which it wasn’t.
It was another person’s opinion of what I had written.
But my self-talk was telling me that I wasn’t good at writing, at asking questions, at talking and I noticed all of the moments in my life that proved this to be true.
That’s how core-beliefs work.
You may be saying harmful, hurtful things to yourself with your negative self-talk. For me, I was saying things like “oh don’t share that, no one cares.” or “Why did you speak up? It didn’t add anything.”
But the truth is, wounds inflicted by our self-talk like this go much deeper and connect with your core beliefs.
Core-beliefs are something that we often form in childhood, but we can develop new ones at any point in our life. Usually, though, when they appear later in life, it’s due to some emotional or energetic trauma.
Once a core-belief is formed, it acts as a magnet and attracts information that proves it to be true, and pushes away information that shows it to be wrong.
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So for me and this core-belief that I sucked at all forms of communication, my memory grabbed on to all those times that I heard people say “I can’t believe you said something like that, it’s terrible.” “Your writing is awful; you should really start over,” “I have no idea what you’re trying to say.”
This core-belief of mine also noticed all the instances that I had to ask a question multiple times to get the answer that I was looking for. In my brain, this further enforced the belief that I was terrible at talking because I had to ask a few times to get the answer.
However, knowing what I know now I understand that some of the people in my life were unintentionally enforcing this core-belief by enjoying making me ask the question several times – even though they knew which answer I was after.
I grew up thinking that I was terrible at communicating and so my already quiet nature just went even more into itself.
Then I started my nursing program at University, and our very first video lab was on communication.
Holy smokes, I can’t even begin to describe the terror that I felt when I learned that I would be recorded on video and graded for how well I spoke with this actor that was hired to test my communication skills, both in what I said as well as my body language.
In fact, the word terror doesn’t come close to it.
My self-talk was reminding me of all of those times that this core belief that I’m terrible at this was proven to be right!
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And you knew there was a “but” coming.
I completed the assignment, and then we were watching the playbacks as a group together, and my teacher kept pointing out all the excellent communication strategies I was using!
She talked about my gentle nature, my eye contact, nodding my head, repeating what I was hearing, asking for clarification, listening without interrupting, sharing appropriate information….all the things that make for a great conversation.
I left that class feeling confused.
All my life, I thought I was awful at this, but a complete stranger who doesn’t know me kept praising me for my strengths.
This challenged my core belief that I wasn’t great at communicating.
So I decided to experiment.
Instead of going to my regular proof-readers before handing in my next assignment, I just wrote from the heart and crossed my fingers that my professor would like the paper.
To my surprise, instead of getting my typical B- grade on a paper, I received an A with a handwritten comment that she liked my conversational writing style.
Just like that, the core-belief was shattered, and I no longer listened to any of that subtle self-talk that was trying to keep me quiet.
This is why, though, trying to cover up negative self-talk with positive thinking doesn’t work.
Think about it.
Your core belief attracts that which proves it to be true and pushes away everything that disagrees with this belief.
So even if I started saying to myself “I’m good at writing” – back at that time, my core belief would hear those in the same way that voice of the adult sounded in the Peanuts cartoons. It would just be noise and wouldn’t make sense
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To heal your negative self-talk, you can’t just throw positive statements at them because your core-beliefs won’t let those words stick. They’ll bounce off you like we talked about in episode 3
Healing our relationship with our inner critic is the first thing we do in the Mindset Reboot program because our inner critic is often the foundational source of our stress.
When you think about it, often we experience stress in our lives when we’re not sure if we’re capable of handling everything we’ve got going on. We feel that stress build up when we start to doubt ourselves – which is our primary role of our inner critic, right? To remind you of how much you’ve got going on, to make you worry about all the things you didn’t think about before and doubt your ability to be successful.
And this whole process starts with awareness and separating yourself from your inner critic. You are not your thoughts. You are not your inner critic. You are the CEO Objective Observer of your life that can CHOOSE to agree or disagree with your inner critic.
Awareness is the first step and I recommend the paperclip exercise for this. Start off with 20 paperclips or coins or something small like that in one pocket, and then as you go through your day when you notice some negative self-talk come up, move a paperclip over to the other pocket and notice what that negative self-talk was about.
Keep moving paperclips over from one pocket to the other everytime you notice some negative self-talk and just bring your awareness to the themes that come up.
Now, I want to make one thing super clear here. You’re noticing self-talk themes, not counting how many times it comes up for you during the day. So if you’ve moved all 20 paperclips over to the other pocket and it’s not even 9 am – don’t worry!
Be gentle with yourself.
The whole idea of this is to bring your awareness to what your inner critic is saying to you the most often so that you can start to heal the inner emotional wound that is creating that negative self-talk pattern.
Are you going to try the paperclip exercise?