Damaging Self-Talk

“Words are loaded pistols.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

As children, many of us remember the taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” A while back, I heard a variation on this schoolyard chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will scar my soul.” And how easily they can.

Words matter. To the mind they are powerful frames for your feelings. They tell the mind what has happened and could happen, which the mind uses as requests for you to have those experiences. Your mind pays careful attention to these requests as words, providing images and responses to match them. No words are ignored and those often repeated make the matches automatic.

The most damaging words are limiting words and they often lead to the following:

  • Affirm a limiting belief you hold about yourself and what you can do and not do. Words connected to limiting beliefs include: stupid, tired, and worthless.
  • Raise anxiety by focusing on what is not wanted. Words that raise anxiety include: hopeless, surviving, and afraid.
  • Establish an expectation for mistakes and errors. Word and phrases that establish an expectation for mistakes include: what if, I can’t, problems, and failure.

How often do you use these limiting words to describe your current, past, or future experiences? Using limiting words is never – repeat, never – helpful and supportive of getting what you desire, want, or dream about. Limiting words always limit your possibilities and potential and ultimately your success.

Change the limiting words in your thoughts and language, and new mental frames will lead to learning and positive experiences.

The next step is to formulate empowering words to replace limiting words. How might you go about doing this? What will it change for you?

17 thoughts on “Damaging Self-Talk

  1. I was thinking of this just the other day. I tell my friends who are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle to rephrase some of the language they use to describe themselves. It truly makes a difference.

  2. I have a book here on my shelf titled, “Your Body Believes Every Word You Say.” It’s got some very powerful examples of exactly that, Eric.

    That whole self-talk thing is a challenge for many of us, myself included. It takes a great deal of awareness to even realize it’s happening When I do, I immediately tell myself “STOP” and reframe whatever it is I was thinking. It works… when I’m paying attention.

    Anyway, I wanted to mention the book… it’s by Barbara Hoberman Levine. I read it at least once a year, just to remind myself how impactful — both positively and negatively — my thoughts and words can be. Good book. Highly recommend. 🙂

    • Agreed. Awareness and reframing are both key. The trick (and talent) is, at least in part, to catch one’s self while in thought before it gets to the vocalizing stage. Thanks for acknowledging the challenge for many, Cynthia, and for highlighting Levine’s book. It sounds worthy of a read.

  3. I have to confess, I could do with applying this advice. I’m notorious for this, even my friends are aware of it. It is not just an internal self-talk. It can become a projection of yourself. And I have been working on it, but this certainly reminds and aids the task, so thank you again, Eric, you wise soul, you.

    • Good on you, EJ, for both being aware and choosing to work on this. I’m glad the message was a timely reminder and that it’s helped to refocus you. As for the wise soul label, thank you… but me thinks not.

  4. Good post. We benefit by tuning out the naysayers in life rather then internalizing their negativity and allowing them drag us down.

    When WE are the naysayer and the tape is running on auto-pilot, we must take affirmative action pronto:

    Step One: Tune in and eavesdrop on your thoughts.
    Step Two: Ask “Is it true, helpful, kind, encouraging?”
    Step Three: If not, re-frame the thought until it is positive and affirming.

    “When we have conquered the enemy within, there are no enemies left to conquer.”

    • A la Lady Macbeth…Out damn auto-pilot! It really is a ‘nasty stain.’ Once it’s evident or acknowledged, I agree with your recommended actions. Shut down the unsolicited noise and get on with our own agenda.

  5. You seem to continue right where I’m at. It’s amazing. I’ve been working on this for the last few weeks. I’ve learned that it takes 2 weeks for the subconscious mind to absorb a new thought (hopefully a positive one). It seems to be a dance for me. 2 steps forward, 1 step back… My goal….well we know where that is. 🙂 I at least am making progress…how quickly? Well….depends on any given day I suppose. I keep telling myself it’s getting better and better everyday. 🙂

    • Does it matter “how quickly” as long as you’re making progress? 🙂 It *is* getting better everyday. That is your intention and goal. Sustain your desired momentum! Thanks for sharing/commenting, Shakti.

  6. Beautifully and explicitly said. I have spent a lot of time exploring the influence of language in my life and consequently, have seen tremendous results as I have modified it. What we often fail to realize is that our brain is like a super computer that is constantly being programmed. We seem to be unaware of the fact however, that we have the incredible power to program it to our best interest.

    Kudos to this post, Eric! It inspires me to write one on my thoughts about language as well :).

    • Thank you, Sudha, for your thoughtful comment. Kudos for choosing to work on language in your life. We often underestimate the power of words, though body language also carries similar significance. Both are, indeed, programming issues and once we awaken to that, we can (to use your word) modify our language choices for better impact and outcomes.

  7. Limiting words and limiting beliefs. Terrible, terrible stuff. The problem with these beliefs is that they can be so hard to eradicate. But I also found another problem with them: when we give them too much attention, we end up reinforcing them.

    There has to be a balance there somewhere. Recognize a limiting belief, try your best to get rid of it (or lessen its impact), and move on. Obsessing over it, to kill it — I find — only puts more emphasis on it.

    We all have them. Unfortunately, they may be a rite of passage to adulthood. Or it may be just a problem the West has. Which gets me to wonder how the people native to jungles and remote areas of the world get along with themselves. I wonder if they experience limiting beliefs like we do. That would be an interesting read. Maybe a trip to Peru is next. 🙂

    • There is a balance, at least one I have found to work. Years ago I decided I wanted a way to deal with the ego-mind. I explored various techniques and finally settled on one of acknowledgment and co-existence. Whenever ego presents, I simply recognize it for what it is, thank it for interjecting itself (often uninvited) and then dismiss it. It’s a conscious effort and amusing at times, too. 🙂 But it works for me. I believe a not dissimilar approach could work for those who struggle with the “obsessing” and wanting to banish the self-limiting beliefs/language.

      I concur, observing how other non-Western cultures deal with this would be an interesting read or first-hand learning experience. Are you packed?

      • You nailed it. The key, of course, is mindfulness and catching the negative talk going on inside.

        Packed? Actually, I am planning a Peru trip in June. And there are other countries in South America I’d just love to visit.

        In time. All in time. 🙂

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