Welcome! Today I’m starting my first blog series. The next several articles are really an investigation into the agreement Don Miguel Ruiz challenges us to make with ourselves,
“Be impeccable with your word!– Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of Truth and Love.”
For me, the hardest part of this agreement is avoiding using my thoughts or words to speak against myself, because once I’m speaking against myself, all other deviations from this agreement become justifiable. I will sneaky, lie, gossip, and in other ways break with my integrity so that the truth, “that I worthless, guilty, and incompetent”, will not get out.
Stuff I read, watch, and listen to warns about the pervasiveness of negative self-talk. From Tony Robbins to Byron Katie to Gandhi, the message is clear. Negative self-talk is not helpful or truthful, and is hurtful to your mental and physical health. I think we can all likely agree it is a problem, even if part of us believes we need it to keep us “on track”, “doing the right thing”, or “in alignment with the will of God.”
Negative self-talk can be sneaky and hard to pin down because it is often driven at the level of belief; the source of the negativity is not what I’m thinking, it’s what I believe is true.
Negative self-talk seems mostly to come out of my subconscious. I mean, I don’t think, “Hey I need to put myself down here” and then do that. The self-directed negativity is habitual and feels instinctive because it comes from subconscious thinking. Since it comes from my subconscious and sometimes sounds like logic, observation, or reality, it is hard for me to identify quickly and easily.
I have been studying the problem for a while. Instead of beating myself up over negative self-talk I’ve been just trying to understand how it manifests in my mind. I’ve found that whenever I’m in negative emotional states I am experiencing negative self-talk. There is no reason other than an internally-based feeling of inadequacy that will lead me to fear or anger. The negative self-talk is my internal belief, manifested in thought, that I am not enough.
I have identified a list of categories of negative self-talk and some tricks for identifying them. I’ve come to these through reading, meditation, and analysis of why I’m feeling what I’m feeling:
- Expectation of reprisal, i.e. anticipation of people being angry at me for something I did or did not do
- Defense against attack, i.e. when someone communicates something to me that I believe is in error or is hurtful to me or others, and I defend myself
- Internal conflict that leads to depression, i.e. when I suppress and internalize my feelings of anger, fear, or sadness against myself
- Pervasive negative thinking that leads to distraction, i.e. when I engage in addictions or mental activities to avoid my feelings and thoughts
I’m sure there are other ways our issues with negative self-evaluation will come to manifest. These are just common ways my mind does it.
Expectation of reprisal
This is a very hard one for me to see. I have a self-deprecating belief that under certain conditions, I am earning reprisal. In cases where I have made a mistake out of fear or anger, I often believe a reprisal is something I am due.
Fear of reprisal is a tricky manifestation of low self-esteem and negative self-talk, so let me try to lay this out for you. As above, reprisal often comes when I have done something that I am convinced is bad. For example, let’s use not calling my mother on Mother’s day.
Now that I have a “crisis”, I can focus. The negative belief about myself has an anchor to manifest from. So, any mistake, no matter how slight, can serve as an anchor for negative thoughts.
“I have erred, and my errors should be punished.” This works because, the underlying belief is that I’m not enough, any error I make is evidence of the same. For example, if my story is, “I’m a marginal, weak, forgetful, stupid, bad person”, I of course deserve to be punished by my mother. Even if she doesn’t say so and isn’t upset in the slightest, I can still justify my fear of reprisal simply by adopting a “well, she should be mad at me” attitude.
All of this allows my subconscious to jump on me by projecting a future reprisal into my mind. In that moment I cannot tell the difference between belief and reality. The feeling of fear of reprisal is so strong that it feels like reality to me. I am now locked in negative self-talk.
In this way, the internal story that I’m not good enough is completed and justified. Thereafter, any anger directed at me from others in the future will simply be reinforcement of the belief. It’s a nice package of self-deprecation with a bow and ribbon on it.
The way out is to realize that none of my slights are meaningful to the creative source. I am as I was created and in this moment I am part of that source and just as loving, loved, and cared for as anyone and everyone else.
Defense against attack
I think this one is the easiest for me to identify. When someone communicates something to me that I believe is in error, or hurtful to me or others, I go on the attack–oops, I mean defense. The reaction to the perceived form of the attack is almost always something that I hold some internal belief about as either true or potentially true. I am defending against my own internal fears and beliefs.
This comes in two forms.
- Their abuse, hurtful action, mean spirit, foul look, or furrowed brow is evidence in support of my belief that I am not enough. Their obvious belief in my inadequacy is evidence that what I fear the most is known and obvious to others. My response is that I must disprove this lest they believe and demonstrate to others what I already know — that I am not enough.
- Their faulty actions, thinking, beliefs, or attitudes need correction. I am, of course, right, and any deviation from my way of thinking or behaving must be corrected — if there is any deviation from my way, then I it would be true that I am not right, capable, skilled, or qualified., so they must be corrected, otherwise there would be far too much evidence that I am really as bad as I think I am.
This form of negative self-talk is based on the fear that others will realize I’m not right, capable, skilled, or qualified.
The way out of this one is to realize that I am an eternal spiritual being. I am this spiritual creature having a physical experience. My worldly outcomes do not mean anything about my spiritual being. I am here on this planet to have a physical experience. No matter what my outcomes are, nothing is “bad” about me. There is no way to live this life “wrong.”
Internal conflict that leads to depression
For me this one is the hardest to get out of. When I suppress and internalize my feelings of anger, fear, or sadness that are directed against myself, I begin a spiraling, self-actualizing cycle.
Let’s think of depression as a spiral staircase descending into a dungeon. The top step is based on a single self-abandonment or negative self-judgement. Once I ignore myself or determine that I am wrong or bad, and begin the process of internalized anger, I am climbing down the stairs.
The realization that I have done this to myself is that last thing I want to admit in that moment, for the part of my mind that is justifying my self-deprecating behavior is the part of my mind that often fears abandonment from others. This is me justifying the behavior by projecting fear of reprisal or conflict with others.
Let me share an example. When I was a kid I wanted to go to the prom. I didn’t have the money at hand, and my dad said he wouldn’t help me with the money. Without the money, the pragmatic part of my mind was convinced that I didn’t need to go to the prom. However, the romantic part of my mind was very angry that this was the case.
Because I was so afraid that the lack of support from my dad was a form of abandonment that I could not at that time accept, I had to internalize the conflict. I could not be mad at him for fear he would push me out and away. By believing that I myself was the source of my own issue, I didn’t need to face my anger around his lack of support. In those days I had no tools for dealing with any anger I felt, so I just stuffed it down. This is how my depressions generally begin.
Each step along the denial of the feelings is an example of negative self-talk. If my feelings aren’t correct and important, then I must be bad, wrong, or broken. Suppressing feelings seems therefore justified. This leads to further depression. Thus, the internalization of anger creates a negative self-esteem producing loop.
The more depressed I get, the worse I feel about myself. The worse I feel about myself, the more depressed I get.
In times like this, unless I could find a way to resolve the conflict, express the feelings, and reconcile my mind to a single state of being, I would remain depressed, adding onto the depression with each further transgression.
The way out is to be as honest with myself as I can about how I really feel and to express my feelings in healthy ways. This is how I find myself not just climbing back up the stairwell, but actually not on the stairs at all.
Pervasive negative thinking that leads to distraction
By far this is the most common way I dig into negative self-talk. I engage in media (books, movies, video games, etc.), work, and food to distract my mind and avoid my feelings and thoughts that are pervasively coming from that subconscious belief that I am not enough.
With each distracting behavior, I ignore the things that help me and provide for positive outcomes in my life. The distractions often lead to worse problems and situations that further prove I’m not good at tasks, relationships, or getting what I want.
The more my mind is worried about things I’m not doing “right” the more I lean into distraction — another looping cycle of self-defeating behavior.
The way out of this is to structure myself to live according to my positive goals and desires, to build into my life a practice of meditation, forgiveness, humility, affirmations, and exercise, and to work daily on creating a life I am happy in.
Negative self-talk is not just a voice in my head. It comes in some ways that are very hard to see. The manifestation of “speak[ing] against yourself” is clearly one that is part of my human experience.
From here, I’m going to explore this agreement further in the following coming articles:
- The power of my word and my relationship with it
- A Selfish Life Context
- Shared spiritual practices
- The power of the Dark Side (Darth Vader’s Primer on the Lack of Faith)