Speaking Mental Health
Forward Times Mental Health Advisors
“It is not what others have to say about you that matters most, rather it is what you have to say about yourself that is most important.” As cliché as this may sound, it’s “facts” as some young people often assert. People may praise you one day and pass judgment on you the next, but it is the ideas that you internalize about yourself that will be the driving force behind your response; whether good, bad, or indifferent. In the psychological world, this concept is referred to as self-talk.
Self-talk is not necessarily a literal audible conversation with yourself (though it could be). Instead, it is an awareness of the mental messages and thoughts that you are rehearsing, replaying, or reiterating to yourself. All too often, the context of our self-talk is negative. Consider the child who constantly hears how he has failed by others, especially those he looks up to. This child may eventually own this view of failure he has regularly received from others and in turn see himself as a failure. Why did he fail? Was it because others called him a failure, repeatedly? Some people use negative thoughts and statements they hear from others as motivation to do great things. Considering the many examples of resilience displayed by people who have been oppressed and have overcome major challenges (especially people of color), we can conclude that a person becomes a failure not because other people say they are or even create barriers for their success, but it is when they call themselves a failure and choose to believe it. One of my favorite psychological self-help books is called “You Are What You Think,” by Dr. David Stoop. It reinforces the idea of self-talk with both quantitative and qualitative research. The book explores in great detail and reveals that being told constantly by others that you are a failure does not automatically mean you will be a failure; it is when you choose (as it is a choice) to adopt that line of thinking, that you have already lost half of the battle. The other half of the battle is lost when you find the evidence that reinforces the idea of you being a failure. If we are completely honest with ourselves, finding evidence that supports our negative self-talk is an extremely easy task; it takes no effort at all to find something negative to say about yourself. You have probably said negative things about yourself aloud even while reading this article.
So how do we combat this diseased pattern of thinking which seems to happen autonomically? After being intentional about identifying our negative self-talk, one of the most effective techniques one can use is substitution. In a way similar to how those with substance use challenges must reframe their way of thinking and replace those negative behaviors with positive ones, those who struggle with negative self-talk must recognize their unhealthy patterns of thinking and replace the negative-self talk with positive affirmations. What are positive affirmations you ask? Positive affirmations are simply “feel good” statements or messages that one repeats to himself or herself that are designed to affirm and reinforce positive thoughts. Just as the woman who repeatedly hears and eventually tells herself she is not enough ultimately believes that she is not enough and acts accordingly, if she can manage to affirm her positive attributes by repeating positive thoughts to herself, such as, “I am so much that what I have to give makes those around me better”, she will place herself in a position to adopt more positive views and positive behaviors will be the result. One of the most impactful quotes I have ever heard simply says, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” If we choose to adopt a positive view about ourselves and couple that view with positive affirmations, then not only what we see is positive, but what we receive is positivity.
As simple as it may sound, to replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations, adopting a continuously positive mindset is not so simple. Choosing to have a more positive outlook may be as easy as choosing a New Year’s resolution; however, learning and implementing strategies to maintain a positive outlook with positive output, especially when surrounded by negativity requires the support of trained and credentialed mental health professionals. Anyone can create a positive saying but learning how to allow that positive statement to germinate in your mind, take root and grow in a way that not only changes your being but impacts your entire environment requires the nourishment and support of a mental health therapist. Mental health counseling allows you to not only recognize good vibes, but to create good vibes for yourself and others. It all starts with positively affirming your self-talk.