Self-Talk as a Means to Self-Love
Would you accept your self-talk from someone else?
I used to say horrible things to myself. It became so common that I didn’t even notice anymore.
I’d forget something important or miss a deadline at work and my self-talk became vitriolic:
“You missed ANOTHER deadline, you piece of shit?”
“You don’t deserve to be alive.”
“You’re just gonna self-sabotage for the rest of your life, aren’t you?”
These thoughts came up more than I realized, and their impact ran deeper than I imagined.
Over years of hearing these things, I started to believe this story I told myself — and who could blame me? Over time, I thought, “You know what? I’m right…
“I AM a total piece of shit.”
“I DON’T deserve to be alive.”
“I AM a lazy fuck.”
But at least these negative thoughts were easy to recognize (even if I didn’t yet understand their impact).
The more nefarious self-talk came out as jokes. I’d drop something on the ground and say, “Nice going, dumbass.”
(Bonus points if I said it out loud, because then it might get a laugh.)
As jokes, I could rationalize my negative self-talk by belittling my feelings:
“Don’t be so sensitive,” I’d tell myself. “I was just making a joke about myself.”
Here’s the rub, though…
I was perpetuating some strange phenomenon that I didn’t recognize until recently:
Rationalizing my negative self-talk in this way (“It was just a joke!”) was incredibly passive-aggressive…against myself.
Once I recognized my self-talk for the passive (and sometimes not-so-passive)-aggressiveness that it was, I had to ask myself a difficult question:
“Would I accept my self-talk from a stranger?”
Fuck no. I’d fight against it with my life. So why did I accept it from myself?
Because I’d been telling myself these negative things and dismissing their impact for years. They barely even registered as negative anymore — that’s just how I talked to myself.
Then once I recognized it, I saw it everywhere, and felt how negative self-talk led me to accepting less than I deserved in work, relationships, and creativity.
“Of course you got less than what you wanted,” I’d say. “You’re still that same piece of shit.”
Once I realized this, I became vigilant about my negative self-talk. I started with my verbal self-talk. My close friends and I decided to keep each other accountable to the things we said about ourselves.
If we said something unduly negative about ourselves, we’d tell each other “Watch that self-talk.”
We had to say it more than any of us expected (and we fought against it a surprising amount — “That wasn’t negative, it was just honest”).
Then, once we no longer needed each other to recognize our SPOKEN negative self-talk, we used that as a template to watch our own UNSPOKEN thoughts.
“Watch that self-talk,” I’d say as I started to berate myself.
Then I accelerated my progress with intentional gratitude practices:
Every morning I write down three things I’m grateful for (even if it’s a bowl of cereal), and every evening I write down three more things I’m grateful for (even if it’s a soft bed).
It was (and is) surprisingly hard work.
Over years of practice, I had become a master of negative self-talk. I know my weaknesses better than anyone else. I’ve had to literally retrain my thoughts.
But the results have been remarkable.
Most notably, I’ve stopped calling myself a lazy piece of shit for taking “too many breaks” from work.
Instead I ask myself:
“What would a compassionate person say about my behavior right now?”
In those moments, the most common answer is that I’m an artist. I’m not being lazy when I go on a 2-hour bike ride in the middle of the day, or watch a movie on a weekday afternoon. I’m gathering material. I’m working through ideas.
My “work” will never look like 9–5 work, and calling myself lazy for that keeps me smaller as an artist.
As I treat myself more kindly, my negative self-talk has become (mostly) replaced by gratitude.
“I’m grateful I chose a profession that allows me freedom.”
“I’m grateful for my ability to create.”
“I’m grateful for the people I have in my life…especially myself.”
So I ask you:
Would you let someone else talk to you the way you talk to yourself?
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