Constant verbal abuse is difficult to deal with. It is distressing and chips away at your self-esteem as you start to buy into the negative things that you hear. When someone is continuously putting you down, calling you names, and pointing out everything you do wrong, symptoms of anxiety and depression can increase. It is normal to want to avoid this person. However, when the negative talk is coming from within, it can be even harder to deal with. While you can’t avoid yourself, you can take steps to decrease negative self-talk and stop bullying yourself.

Recognize Negative Self Talk

Recognizing the negative things that you are saying to yourself is the first step. While it is normal and even helpful to engage in some self-criticism, it is not beneficial to only be critical. Notice when the things you are saying to yourself are mainly negative and whether or not this is motivating you to make effective changes. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.

I recently started my private practice and quickly realized that my marketing skills are lacking. My negative self-talk about this was helpful at first, it motivated me to do research and learn new skills. However, my once motivating negative self-talk started turning into self-bullying. My self-bullying was not motivating me to make effective changes, in fact, it was keeping me stagnant.

Name the Bully

Once you recognize that the negative self-talk has turned into unmotivating bullying, you should separate yourself from the bully. Maybe you got a B instead of an A on an assignment and the bully starts telling you that you’re stupid. Naming the bully helps separate the negative things you are saying to yourself from who you are at your core.

My bully, Miss Perfect, is extremely critical. She is an expert at catastrophizing, turning small negative events into the imagined worst possible outcome. Such as, if you don’t fully understand this simple marketing term, your business is going to fail because you’re useless. Externalizing this negative self-talk keeps me from internalizing it as an absolute truth.

Be Gentle and Kind

Be gentle with yourself and speak to yourself with kindness. Your bully may be trying to be helpful, but they are not going about it in the most beneficial way. It may feel false to speak kindly to yourself when you are used to criticizing yourself. A good way to practice this is to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a young child that you care about, or the way your best friend speaks to you. If you would not allow a stranger on the street to say these things to you, don’t say it to yourself.

I am telling myself that I am useless. This is not a kind way to speak to myself and I certainly would not accept that from a stranger. It is possible for me to be more compassionate with myself, and more gentle. I can use words that are more caring and understanding, and more accurate. It is better to speak to myself with compassion which can help me feel more hopeful and more motivated. I can recognize that I have positive qualities as well, and I don’t have to dwell on the negative.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

It is okay to be sad, it is okay to be angry, it is okay to feel anyway you need to feel. It is very difficult to control things at the feeling level. Where you have control, what you can alter, are your responses and reactions. You don’t need to judge your feelings, you simply need to acknowledge what you are feeling in a gentle way. Acknowledging your feelings as valid without judgment, allows them to be something you are experiencing instead of something that defines you.

Underneath what the bully is saying is the feeling of fear. Avoiding this emotion is not helpful to me. I need to acknowledge the fear in a gentle nonjudgmental way. Stating out loud that I am feeling afraid makes me feel a little better. It helps me to view fear as a normal emotion that anyone might experience when trying to understand something that they are completely unfamiliar with. If I were to speak to myself as if I were a young child, I would say that it makes sense that you are afraid and it’s okay to feel that way.

Define the Things You Say

You might engage in black and white thinking when the bully takes over. This refers to evaluating your personal characteristics as either all good, or most commonly, all bad. However, this type of thinking sets up exaggerated expectations that can lead to chronic disappointment. If you lose your job, the bully might say you are worthless. Before you can determine the accuracy of this statement, you have to define what worthless means as well as what makes someone worthy. When making a value judgment about what makes someone worthy, if an infant doesn’t fit the definition, you’re definition is wrong.

Miss perfect says that if I don’t fully understand a marketing term, I’m useless. I need to determine what useless and useful mean before I can judge the accuracy of what the bully is saying. When I define what it means to be useless as having no value, I can see if that fits for me. Useful, on the other hand, can be defined as having value.

Check for Accuracy

With a clear definition, you can check for accuracy. If you define being worthy so that an infant fits the definition, it can’t simply be about doing enough or achieving a certain status. You might decide that existing makes someone worthy. This means that the only way you can define yourself as worthless is if you don’t exist. When checking for accuracy, you need to see if you fit the definition. If you exist, you meet the definition of being worthy. You do not meet the definition of being worthless, so saying this to yourself is inaccurate.

With my situation, it is inaccurate for me to say to myself that I am useless. I determined the definition of being useless to mean having no value. And since determining value, like determining worth is a subjective judgment, my definition has to work for an infant as well. Therefore, if I determine someone is useful because they exist, telling myself that I am useless is not accurate since I do not meet the definition.

Consider Other Things You Can Say to Yourself That Are Accurate and Kind

Considering things that are accurate and kind to say is an important step in changing the negative self-bullying. You need to consider if you are being gentle and more factual when changing the bullying self-talk. It helps to write down what the bully is saying and determine how you can change it in a way that is kind, acknowledges your feelings, and is more accurate.

Instead of saying that not understanding something means my business will fail because I am useless, I can change this into a more accurate statement. If I don’t understand a marketing term, it means I haven’t learned about it yet and I can find ways to learn about so my business succeeds. I can read articles that explain it, or reach out to others with more knowledge. Such as my neighbor who works in this field and is always willing to help, or my website designer, Daniel Fava at who has a Facebook group to help therapists learn online marketing. My kinder, more accurate statement can be, if I don’t understand a marketing term, it makes sense that I might be afraid that this will have a negative impact on my business. However, I know what I can do to learn more about it to help my business succeed.

The more you practice, the easier it gets. Things that you say to yourself are very powerful. It’s likely that you will live up to the things you tell yourself and what you believe about yourself. The good news is you have control over how you talk to yourself and what you say. You get to decide if you are going to bully yourself or speak to yourself in a kind and gentle way that acknowledges your feelings and is more accurate.

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