Whenever my mother caught herself complaining, worrying or voicing a dooms day scenario, she would interrupt herself and say, “Oh, no. Let me stop, before I’m hung by the tongue.”
She knew what prophets and poets —now joined by mind scientists — have been telling us throughout the ages. Our tongues hold the power of life and death.
We must ask ourselves: Are our words healing or hurtful? Complimenting or condemning? Do they make us bitter or better?
Let’s see if any of these words sound familiar.
Shut Up! You're just like your daddy! You will never make it! You're lazy! You’re crazy! You’ll never amount to anything. You’re such an idiot. Why can’t you be more like this person or that person? You, finish college? Yeah, right.
Many of us have heard these words before. And some of us have used them, not only on others but on ourselves. Negative self-talk is usually a byproduct of being degraded, abused and rejected by words. It can become so deeply ingrained in us that we’re not even aware of the poisonous messages we play in our heads, and release from our mouths.
The sooner you learn to recognize your inner-critic and put him or her in check, the quicker you will be on your way toward more wholesome and constructive self-talk. Psychologists caution us against taking our inner critic, which can be subtle, at face value. The inner-critic can appear to serve a beneficial purpose on the surface. You might feel like your inner-critic is necessary if you are striving for excellence, or trying to achieve something. But beating yourself up damages self-esteem and confidence, the very things you need to succeed.
When the inner-critic turns into a bully, it’s definitely time to grab the mic. The inner-bully often shows up when we’re at our most vulnerable. He or she has a knack for drama, condemning and demonizing us for simple errors and human mistakes. A helpful way to look at self-talk is through the lens of a thoughtful parent. Ask yourself: Is punishment or encouragement going help you get up and get on track? Here are some other ideas to help you as you get your words and tongue working in your favor.
Your inner-critic is a merely one side of your multifaceted persona. Give it a name. I grew up in a military family so I call mine The Sarge. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and author of The Gifts Of Imperfection, calls hers The Gremlin. The more creative and sillier, the better.
Ask your inner-critic what purpose do you serve? How are you trying to help me -- or not? If your critic is using words like “always,” “never,” “nobody,” and “everybody,” chances are his or her version of the story in your head needs challenging. Is it true, nobody loves you? Or are you talking yourself into going down the road of self-pity and victimization?
Learning to be a little kinder to ourselves, and tweaking our self-talk to align with the facts can go a long way. Are you really the “fat pig” your inner-critic says you are, or rather a capable and worthwhile person who’d like to lose 10 pounds? Finding a more neutral perspective and language opens more options.
Get the help you need.
Research has shown that simply replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk is not the answer. Our internal -lie-detector systems go off when we try to con ourselves. If you’re down in the dumps, grieving or upset, simply repeating positive affirmations isn’t going to automatically lift your spirits. In fact, psychologists say it can make you feel even lousier. If you think you’re dealing with depression or some other mental health issue, it’s wise to speak with your physician or a mental health professional.
Train your inner-cheerleader
Once you realize that everything you say to yourself is an affirmation, the mystique around the mindful practice of positive, self-affirming talk quickly dissipates. You can muzzle your inner-cheerleader or equip him or her to counter balance your inner-critic. A strong inner-cheerleader can provide you with the empathetic, compassionate and empowering perspective and words you need to get through rough patches or pick yourself back up after a bad spill. She or he can keep you from being hung by the tongue.