You Are What You Tell Yourself. Why talking negative to yourself can actually turn you into a negative person
John Locke compares the mind of a newborn to a blank slate—tabula rasa. With an irrepressible gusto for life, we enter the world perfect, whole and complete. Have you ever watched an infant completely absorbed by a sight or a moving object? There are no filters, no self-doubt and definitely no hangups.
As infants and toddlers, we explored the world around us freely. We didn't worry about what others thought of us. We had no problem being the shape, colour and size that we were. And we had no internal monologue that was constantly beating us down. We were perfect and we knew it.
So when, then, did we begin to feel, act and be lesser than our perfect selves?
"There is no way you can do this. You suck. Who do you think you are? Don’t you remember the time you failed miserably and made a complete fool of yourself? You can never be as good as him/her. He is talented; you know you can’t compete with that." Haven't we had this conversation with orself, multiple times?
Looks like a mean set of words to tell a friend or a loved one, don't you think? Well, here is the thing. Behind all your conscious decisions is a trail of thoughts that are constantly beating you down, making you your own worst enemy. But you aren’t the only one. Every one of us is guilty of this at some point, but when this negative self-talk becomes constant, we end up acting out of fear and a sense of lack rather than making empowered decisions.
It Starts Early:
Most psychologists, irrespective of their approach, agree that early childhood experiences play a critical role in shaping our self-beliefs. We need to understand that parents, caregivers and adults do not magically become self-aware, wise souls overnight. The negative messages that they carry from their past are still present within and very often gets transferred to children. This creates an endless cycle of self-doubt and poor self-esteem.
When a child begins to hear about her own limitations, two things can happen. She can either look at it objectively and build on it, or she can be crippled by it, continuing to constantly doubt her adult capabilities as a grown up. This depends on how the message is delivered, the tone and the emotions underlying the words.
It's Reiterated through Experiences:
Young children are indiscrete when it comes to trusting the adults around them. They are filterless and absorb whatever is told to them to be concrete truths. Consider these set of statements:
"You are so smart. I am proud of you. Your smile makes my day. I love you."
"You are so dumb. Don’t embarrass me. Thank god you are pretty; you can’t count on your skills to make a living."
These messages in early childhood become embedded in the memory and become hardwired as the primary source of self-belief. Now you know where the internal monologue running on loop might come from.
As adults, every time an experience resonates with these primary messages, we store that in a mental bank and reiterate the beliefs. Have you ever walked in late during an important meeting and felt like it was the worst move in the history of your career? You could be responding to a self-talk rather than the actual situation at hand.
The Science of It:
Your brain cells are constantly forming new neural pathways and deepening old ones. Just like how a running stream deepens the riverbed, the more you think a certain kind of thoughts, the deeper these routes become and your new thoughts are likely to flow into the same pathway. Similarly, the lesser you use a certain pathway, the lighter this trail grows. This implies that it requires conscious awareness and action to change the pattern of self-talk you have been involved in throughout your life.
This is why some folks break through their early conditioning and come out stronger. Maya Angelou, one of the most influential writer and thinker of our times, had a troubled childhood, including the trauma of abuse. She recalled how she held on to her mother's nine words and chose to believe in them: ‘I think you’re the greatest woman I’ve ever met” her mother had said. And her daughter went on to become just that.
Why the Inner Critic Is Your Worst Enemy:
Well, apart from the fact that it is negative, dents your self-esteem and stops you from living your life to the fullest, you are also likely to be more vulnerable to stress, depression, anxiety and a host of physical ailments. Now, if you could just spin it around and have an internal monologue that affirms your self-belief, makes you feel good about yourself and encourages you to take chances in life, you start an endless chain of positivity. Because everyone you meet from this place of power is likely to be touched by your confidence and joy, and they, in turn, will have the courage to battle the resident evil beating them down.
Remember, what you are is what you radiate. Before you aim to become the best professional, ideal parent, perfect spouse or accomplished artist, it's important to become aware of your internal monologue, realign your core beliefs to who you truly are, and see the world take on a new colour.
Let us know of your thoughts and if you have faced the problem of self-criticism too...at firstname.lastname@example.org