Can Your Self Talk Create Additional Stress? Yes!
It’s well-known in the therapeutic community that negative statements from others can erode our sense of self-worth. Children tend to believe negative assessments of them from teachers and parents, and develop a compromised self-concept when criticized on a regular basis. Researchers estimate that it’s necessary for the ratio of positive-to-negative comments be at least five to one for a relationship to be healthy and survive long-term. For these reasons, we’re taught not to let others put us down, but sometimes the person eroding our sense of self-worth and limiting our potential is us! That’s right, our self talk, or the words our inner dialogue uses when we think, can increase our stress levels, limit our potential, and color our experience with a negative pen. Here are some more detailed reasons why this happens, with links to resources you can use to change your mind and turn self-sabotage into self-mastery:
Language Colors Experience
Though it’s not clear as to what extent this occurs, it has been found that the types of words we use can alter expectations and even our perceptions of reality. For example:
- If you’ve been told that a difficult person is ‘a nightmare to work with’, you will probably perceive that person as more frustrating than if you’ve been told they’re ‘particular’ or ‘somewhat demanding’.
- If your dentist tells you, ‘This will hurt. A lot!”, you will probably find a procedure more painful than if you’ve been told ‘You may experience some discomfort.’
- Research has found that people who speak different languages may see the same things differently based on the words their language uses to describe these things. For example, studies show that language can affect the perception of color. (People who spoke a certain language that classifies blue and green as different shades of the same color were less able than English speakers to differentiate colors that toed the line between blue and green.) These effects influence the right brain more than the left, but the influence is clearly significant.
As it subtly colors what you perceive and what you dwell on, negative self-talk can alter your experience of stress in the following ways:
Increased Perception of Stress:
When your self talk is negative, you may perceive things as more stressful. For example, when you tell yourself something is ‘difficult’ or ‘unfair’, it becomes more stressful to deal with than if you tell yourself it’s a ‘challenge’, or even a ‘test’. Using self-talk that isoptimistic rather than pessimistic has stress management benefits, productivity benefits and even health benefits that have been proven by research.
If you say “I can’t handle this”, you more likely can’t. This is because your subconscious mind tends to believe the thoughts it hears. You can limit your abilities by telling yourself you “can’t”, that “this is too hard” or that you “shouldn’t even try”.
When you tell yourself you can’t handle something (or some other self-limiting thought), you tend to stop looking for solutions. For example, notice the difference between telling yourself you can’t handle something and asking yourself how you will handle something. Doesn’t the second thought feel more hopeful and produce more creativity? Negative self talk tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Stopping negative thoughts and creating habitually positive internal dialogue can reduce stress and empower you.