What to Do About Negative Self-Talk
The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one wants to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in most religions and cultures. It can be considered an ethic of reciprocity in some religions, although different religions treat it differently.
The maxim may appear as a positive or negative directive directive governing conduct:
- Treat others as you would like others to treat you (positive or directive form)
- Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated (negative or prohibitive form)
- What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathetic or responsive form).
There are some who suggest that The Golden Rule should be reversed. The maxim would then look like this: Treat Your Self how YOU want to be treated. The idea is to focus on enhancing one’s wellbeing. For example, if you want to be treated with compassion and understanding, then you should do so with respect to your own actions.
One problem with reversing The Golden Rule is sometimes a person doesn’t treat themselves very well. Does that mean they should treat others that way? For example, some people are overly critical of their own behavior. In such a case, the reverse Golden Rule might not work well.
Some people say things to themselves that they wouldn’t dare say to someone else – name calling, shaming, blaming. This is negative self-talk, a form of emotional abuse.
Self-talk is a term to describe the conversations we have in our heads. It may be neutral (i.e., reminding yourself to do a chore). Sometimes it’s positive, such as congratulating yourself for a job well done. When the self-talk is negative, harm may come to one’s psyche and feeling of self-worth.
According to a self-help online publication – Virginia Counseling --, the most important first step to stopping negative self-talk is to notice it. Perception is reality, but a lot of times, our internal thoughts run on autopilot, just below our conscious awareness. When these thoughts are allowed to pass without detection, you won’t be able to check them for validity . . . so you’ll just believe them. If you want to start being kinder to yourself, you first must notice when you aren’t treating yourself well.
Virginia Counseling identifies the following quick assessment to help identify, challenge, and change negative self-talk.
- Identify a thought
- What am I telling myself?
- Is it positive, neutral, or negative?
If it’s positive or neutral, great. But if it’s negative, ask yourself if it may be the result of what’s known as a cognitive distortion. In other words, is it an exaggerated pattern of thought that’s not based on facts. It consequently leads you to view things more negatively than they really are. In other words, cognitive distortions are your mind convincing you to believe negative things about yourself and your world that are not necessarily true.
- Review the thought for accuracy
- Is my thought true (what is the evidence for and against this thought)?
- Am I generalizing one bad event (i.e., ‘I always fail’ based on one failure)?
- Have I jumped to a conclusion (what is another possible explanation)?
- Am I seeing things in only black-or-white (is your situation just kind of bad instead of the worst ever)?
- Am I using ‘should’ statements instead of accepting a unique situation (I should have done better, rather than I could have done better)?
- Look for alternative explanations that aren’t so bad
- What is the best-case scenario?
- What is the middle-of-the-road scenario?
- Are either of these more likely?
- Be solution-focused
- Where is this train of thought leading, and is it helping or hindering my goals?
- If it’s hindering me, how better can I direct myself toward my goal?
It can take time to change self-talk, especially if it has become a habit. But gaining insight into the ways in which we tend to distort reality is an important first step. It can help to open different avenues of thought — to help you realize there are other ways — more positive ways — not only to think, but to speak to yourself throughout the day.
We all need to be kinder to ourselves. We all need to be compassionate and empathetic. It starts with treating ourselves this way: Treat Your Self how YOU want to be treated. If we do so, then we will treat others the same way. In other words, work on yourself first – your feelings, your habits, your actions – and then translate into the way you would want others to be treated.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on January 25, 2022. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.