Words are powerful and words can hurt is the adage we carry with us throughout our lives; how much or whether we really apply it are a different matter. What I want to focus on is that when we choose to follow it we do so when it comes to others and almost never when it comes to ourselves. Creative types are particularly apt at putting themselves down through the internal language they use.
We constantly worry whether other people like us, how they feel about us and think of us and we never seem to worry too much about how our own words impact us. You are the person who spends the most time with yourself and most times, you also listen to yourself. What you tell yourself, how you speak, and the tone you use set up the environment in which you must function (and sometimes we don’t seem to be able to function at all); the tone and language you choose become part of you and greatly influence the way you feel about yourself and how you treat yourself.
“Stupid forgot her phone again” you might say, or “Geez, I am always rambling”. What is it exactly that we say when we talk to ourselves like that? Could these two examples be translated into: I am stupid and I never have anything meaningful to say so, I don’t matter.
These are the obvious examples, they’re transparent and quite direct, but how about the sarcastic ones? “Go ahead, have another piece of chocolate, it’s not like it matters anymore” or “Oh look how original I am” that’s a personal favorite. The underlying messages here are I am already fat, have no self-control, I am a lost cause; and I have nothing new to say, I am average, I don’t matter.
And how about the subtle self insults, the ones that pierce right through your core. “You tried” you might tell yourself while still working on a project, or “I didn’t even clean out the house today” might be translated as I am a failure; and I am lazy, incapable of doing the simplest things so I am an idiot.
Could you imagine saying these things out loud to someone else? How insulting and degrading is that! We couldn’t conceive using such insults to talk to the people closest to us and yet we take the freedom to do it to and for ourselves.
So what happens next? Since all these are internal insults and because we do listen to ourselves and unconsciously decode what we really are saying, we internalize these messages and when time comes, act with them in mind.
The things we tell ourselves and the way we talk also determine the expectations we have about our abilities, intelligence, talents, etc. These expectations, not to be confused with standards, take the form of self-fulfilling prophecies. You keep telling yourself you’ll fail enough times and you will end up eventually failing and not because of any external factors, as we’d like to believe, but because we start acting in a way that is likely to elicit the expected behavior; this is sometimes referred to as self-sabotage.
Our mind, particularly our unconscious works in amazing ways and it can be great a ally or our biggest enemy regardless of our assets. While some might argue that this is a deterministic view – and for a good reason- I am suggesting quite the opposite.
You can be in control of yourself and your actions as long as you are aware of all the internal elements at play (your attitude toward yourself, self-imposed expectations, the language you use with yourself) in any given situation. So, next time you’re in your head talking to yourself, pay some attention. What are you telling yourself and what’s underneath that? What are you really saying? You’ll be surprised with how apt you’ve become to insulting yourself and putting yourself down in the subtlest manner.