I’ll never forget the way my dad looked at me when he said: You have so much to be proud of. I wish you could see it.
My heart breaks every time I hear someone I love put themselves down. But I get it. I was once that person, too. The person who didn’t believe she was enough as is. The person who thought her body, her voice, her MIND itself needed a major overhaul.
That moment with my dad, on a family vacation in my late teens, has stuck with me for almost two decades now. I could see his love, his belief in me…and his pain knowing that he couldn’t just say a magic words and fix my self-image right then and there.
I still struggle sometimes — probably way more than I’d like to admit — but I have tools now that I didn’t have back then. And because I’ve been in such a deep self-loathing, self-doubting spiral, I’m able to recognize it quicker in others. Mainly, the people I love most.
And I feel those same feelings my dad must have felt when he looked at me.
I wish I could just say a magic word and fix it all right then and there. But I know I can’t.
But now that I’ve got hindsight on my side, I now know what helped me most when it came to the impact others had on me: how they spoke rubbing off on how I thought.
Your self-talk is like a language. And just like learning any language, it’s easy to become fluent in whatever you’re surrounded by and exposed to.
Not sure of the neuroscience here, but I know from my own experience that I learn best not when someone tells me what to do, but when someone shows me what to do. So I’m not surprised at all that while people telling me to “stop being so hard on yourself” didn’t move the needle much, hearing and watching them model healthy self-confidence and self-concept was incredibly helpful.
Someone you love struggling with negative self-talk? Here are some ways to help them become fluent in a more positive, proactive language…without just telling them to “stop being a dick to yourself.”
5 WAYS TO HELP SOMEONE SHIFT THEIR NEGATIVE SELF-TALK:
1. Be mindful of universal quantifiers: all, none, never, always, no one, everyone, etc.
Universal quantifiers are words that make a global statement with no exceptions. Not to say these words don’t have their place! Just be mindful and aware of when/how you use them, since their misuse can contribute to the kind of binary thinking (wrong vs. right) that can make someone believe there is one way to do life. Everybody is different (see what I did there?).
2. Ask if someone wants your ear, or wants your answers.
Even if you have the best intentions, sometimes people don’t need them, and just want a shoulder to lean on. before you jump into “here’s what I think,” ask your friend what they need from you in the moment so they feel valued and heard.
Bonus: if they want answers, try asking them questions instead. allowing your friend to come to their own conclusions helps them not only develop their critical thinking skills, but gain self-trust (vs. looking outside themselves for the answers).
3. Give specific compliments without strings attached — and give them often.
Have you ever noticed that you save your compliments for big occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, or milestones? People need to know they’re loved, liked, respected, or admired on the regular, ordinary days, too.
Don’t go and “love bomb” people — which is “an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection” (Wikipedia). But make a point to give compliments when they pop into your brain. You never know who’s struggling to see themselves in a kinder light.
4. Bond over what you love, what you want to celebrate, or what you’re working toward.
It’s super easy to bond over negativity — and it’s effective, too! Studies have shown that strong bonds are formed when we talk about what we loathe. We’re connecting…but at what cost?
When problems arise or you just need to vent, go for it. But if you’re searching for conversation topics and tend to lean on gossip or complaints, try adding questions like “what are you excited about today?” or “what’s something you’re really loving lately?” into the mix. These small conversation starters can help spark proactive dialogue and positive connection.
5. Speak about yourself the way you would want your best friends to think about themselves.
We learn from example and take cues from one another. If you want someone you love to have a better self-image and more positive self-talk, show them how it’s done.
Be unafraid to share your wins and proud moments, no matter how big or small, with your loved ones. make sure you share in a genuine way that’s not seeking validation or recognition, and instead creates a space in which it’s not only normal, but encouraged, to celebrate exactly who you are. Lead with your own self-love. Side note: you’ll benefit just as much as they do 🙂