When I was in my early twenties, I read a feminist book. It was called “The Woman’s Room” by Marilyn French. I’d recently had my first child and spent all afternoon lying on our bed with him, occasionally breastfeeding him back to sleep, reading the book. I was transfixed, inspired, and ready to take life by the horns. I felt I could do anything. I felt as if my whole life lay before me like a fantastic adventure. I was strong, determined and open to all possibilities.
I entered a business competition and won. There were things I had to do before I could start my business, all to do with qualifying for a weekly government subsidy. I had to get a job for a certain length of time, leave it and then wait until enough time had passed until I could get the weekly payment. I took it step-by-step and I did it. Purchased a computer and printer – when PCs had only been around about two years. I started my business and loved it. I had lots of help from the competition organizers. I was on fire. Then gradually, something happened. I think it began with an increasing number of rejections and refusals. I couldn't handle being turned down so I wasn’t getting the work. And I became fearful of asking for it. I wasn’t the star I thought I was. So I scaled back. Kept it going but on a part-time basis. What had been my dream morphed into nothing more than a glorified secretarial service. What happened?
Negative self-talk was what happened. I was not good enough. I’d been too ambitious. My idea of creating and running a successful business was fantasy. And I was doomed to repeat the cycle over and over. As soon as got anywhere close to success, I would talk myself out of it. I’ve witnessed and heard of many women doing the same. Later on, during my second marriage, any confidence I had slowly dripped away, as my husband bullied me and informed me that wives are supposed to serve. Eventually, I found a way to break free, but my confidence was gone, and negative self-talk dogged every attempt to achieve even the least of my ambitions.
So how to break this negative self-talk cycle?
Strategy #1 Give Yourself Time
After my marriage broke up, I spent two years alone. During this time, I went to college, got two jobs and things were looking up. I had plenty of time to think and process. And I did. I even managed to understand that my ex was simply acting out the effects of his horrible childhood, so in my heart I forgave him.
If you are recovering from a traumatic break-up or some other life-changing event, it’s important to know that improvement takes time. Let the thoughts come, give yourself permission to process them and let them go again. Sooner or later, they will fade.
Strategy #2 Forgive Yourself
We all do it. We catch ourselves thinking negatively and then beat ourselves up for being so pathetic. You are not pathetic, you have simply got into a habit of negative self-talk and it isn’t your fault. Each day, try to forgive yourself a little more. Make self-forgiveness a top priority. When you wake say, “I forgive you. I love you.” Repeat several times. Do this as often as you can throughout the day.
Strategy #3 Learn to Love Yourself
Who is the most important person in your life? Think of them now. Is it your child? Your partner? Your mother? No, it’s you. You are the most important person on the planet. No-one else is more important than you in your life. Yet, how often do you put yourself second? Or last? Constantly. When do you put your own time on your top priority list? Never. It’s time to treat yourself with respect. To learn just how awesome you are. To fall in love with you.
Strategy #4 Know You Are Always a Work-In-Progress
No-one is a perfect human being, therefore you have to love yourself, flaws and all. Especially those flaws. They are what makes you a human being. Your mistakes, errors of judgment, and quirky traits are present so you can learn from them. Embrace them and learn the valuable lessons within. It also helps to know that everyone is their own work-in-progress, and they are all living their lives in the best way they know how. Rarely, is anyone truly evil. Most are doing what they can to get by.
Strategy #5 Value Your Own Opinion
Have conversations with yourself. Journaling is a good way to do this. Ask yourself what you think about something. Whether it is an opportunity, a rebuke by a friend, an argument with your spouse, or a point of discipline with your child. Explore your feelings around the subject. Express an opinion, or three. Say, to yourself throughout the day, “Sally, what do you really think about this?”
Strategy #6 What Other People Think of You Is Not Important
This is one of the strongest areas of negative self-talk – worrying about what others think. Whether it’s your dress sense, your parenting, or life choices. Give up trying to please other people. What they think of you is none of your business. What is important is what you think of you. You can’t control events or your behavior, or your words enough to please everyone, so give it up. Don’t restrict your decisions to those that your mother would approve. Don’t say no to an opportunity because your husband wouldn’t like it.
Strategy #7 Understand the Negative Self-Talk Voice
Know that the voice in your head is doing her utmost to protect you. She doesn’t want you to take risks, or get hurt, or move out of your comfort zone. She’s trying to keep you where you are – in a safe place. When that voice breaks in and reminds you that you are not clever enough, or pretty enough, or well-though of enough, gently reassure her that none of than matters and you are going to do it anyway.
You won’t be able to conquer negative self-talk in one day, but if you make these strategies part of your life, you can gradually learn to let it go. Remember, you are a beautiful, human, work-in progress. Just like me.
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