Episode 086 - Top three tips for positive self-talk
Today, I’m chatting about something that can be very detrimental to your recovery and that’s how you talk to yourself, about yourself. Both in what you say out loud, and what you say in your head.
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Next episode: 6 ways to stop feeling so meh
Transcript of episode
Today I want to chat about something that can be very detrimental to your recovery and that’s how you talk to yourself, about yourself. Both in what you say out loud, and what you say in your head.
We all know the saying “would you say what you say to yourself to a friend”. We all know about fat-talk, where we shame and judge ourselves about our thighs, hips, muffin top. It’s second nature to us. We also do this when we get sick. We blame ourselves. We tell ourselves that we’re lazy, that we should do better, and my personal fave of why bother, what’s the point in trying.
Are you in the habit of putting yourself down? Maybe you rush to make jokes about your illness before anyone else can? Sadly, it’s something I saw a lot in clinic, and when I worked in oncology. As if by making jokes about it meant that people wouldn’t feel sorry for you, or want to try to help. In truth, all you are doing is belittling yourself.
Research has shown that there are links between self-talk, self-esteem and chronic health and how using critical language around illness and body image to belittle ourselves ultimately has a negative impact on our self-esteem and can spiral into self-loathing.
The research found that 60% of British adults have struggled with their body image and, of those, 74% have used self-deprecating language.
Words like ‘failure’, ‘shame’, ‘dissatisfied’, ‘hopeless’, ‘anxious’, ‘invisible’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘insecure’ and ‘embarrassed’.
More than 80% of women admit to talking about themselves this way. And research is showing that the more negative comments you make about yourself, the less happy you’ll feel.
When struggling with illness and/or body image, this cycle of self-criticism can mean we become isolated, and we can lose our self-belief and feeling of self-worth and, instead of seeking support, we sabotage ourselves. Oftentimes, because it happens so slowly, we don’t realise we need support, sometimes until it’s too late.
These seemingly throwaway comments are more powerful than you might think. They increase body dissatisfaction and low mood, which make us more likely to avoid exercise, more likely to stress eat, and less likely to take care of ourselves. All things that we need to do for good mental health alone, not just for recovery from a chronic illness.
My illness was diagnosed in 2009, so I have had negative self-talk sneaking in on me for that for years.
Add to it that I’ve known for over 10 years I was unlikely to be able to have children so I had somehow convinced myself I wasn’t entitled to grieve, then not connecting emotionally to my hysterectomy, convincing myself I was no longer a whole woman, all led to a break in October. At the time, though, I wasn’t aware that those things were not the true cause.
As I go through my grief counselling, I am also applying many things to my illness healing journey as well. Here are my top 3 tips to start practising positive self-talk:
1. Stop calling yourself names
Calling yourself names actually holds you back from making positive lifestyle changes because it makes you doubt your ability to change. The more ingrained your name-calling habit, the more unhappy you’re likely to be with your body and yourself, and that means you might not feel better about yourself even when you are further along in your recovery.
When you speak badly of yourself it’s like trying to live with a judgemental, overly critical parent, and you’re the vulnerable child who believes whatever the parent says. What we can to do is turn down the volume on the harsh, critical parent telling us that we’re useless, have failed, etc. I have learned to do this by identifying who actually owns the voice I am hearing. 9 times out of ten, it’s not my own.
We can then turn up the volume on our own warm, kind, understanding voice, which can calm our self-critic so we can shed the guilt and begin the healing process that is so deserved and so necessary. Forgive yourself and let it be the start of your new life free from guilt and pain. On a piece of paper, make a ‘best bits’ list. Find as many positives as you can – from how much you love animals, right down to your nice earlobes and pretty toes! If you find it impossible to do, ask a friend or partner to help.
2. Be careful of the “I am” statements
We believe whatever follows I am. Those statements, or labels, define us. Whether positive or negative. You’ll often hear me correct people who say “I am fat” to “I have fat”. I corrected myself from I am sick, to I have an illness. My latest is shifting from I am childless/I am never going to be a mother, to I haven’t been able to carry my own child. Using phrases like this causes a shift in your identity. It can also help when talking with others, and the judgment that follows. My ex’s extended family were extremely judgmental about the reasons why children were not invited to the wedding, and decided for themselves it has to be because I don’t like them. After all, why else would I not have had any? Far too stuck up their own arses and desperately devoid of any self-esteem to consider that it might have been something else, something bigger than them, or that they had the wrong one of us who didn’t like them. Generally I ignored them and didn’t have any interest in correcting them. If they’d asked, I’d have told them. I’ve always lived my life with the view that if I wouldn’t want to swap places with you, I have no interest in your opinion.
3. Help create a complaint-free zone with friends.
How many times have you said ‘you think your bum is big, look at the size of mine? You think that you’re helping your friend feel better about themselves, but the truth is it’s toxic and it’s contagious. Research shows that our body issues can rub off on our friends in just five minutes, and vice versa. Research also shows that women who make negative remarks about their bodies and themselves were seen as less likeable than those who said nice things. So instead give compliments on personality or achievements or some other wonderful thing you love about your people – and watch how the group dynamic changes for the better.
Even fleeting comparisons and feelings of dissatisfaction can affect how you feel about yourself if you experience them often enough because they sink into your subconscious. Subconscious messages can become a script for the way we play out our lives. However motivated you are to recover, if deep down you believe it’s pointless because you’ll always be a sick person, sooner or later you’ll give up.
One of the most effective ways of switching your mindset and nurturing a healthier appreciation of yourself is to embrace small steps towards the person you want to be. You get to choose what fit and healthy looks like for you.
Start practising positive self-talk today and don’t let anything stand in the way of your recovery!
And remember – you are worth it, and you get to choose.
Have a lovely day.