Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Negative Self Talk

This blog isn't a place for negative self talk. In fact, while I occasionally use my stupidity and poor situational awareness for comic effect, the central thesis of Questioning my Intelligence has three parts: nobody is perfect, we shouldn't take ourselves so seriously, and choosing a healthy, positive, and hopeful perspective on life does more for your happiness than anyone or anything else can.

A few weeks ago, when I picked up the lawn mower at the repair shop, I approached the service desk cheerfully. What a beautiful day! My thoughts were full of gratitude for the repair person who had the skill to fix our mower and for George who does the mowing. Two people stood behind the counter: a woman on the phone and a man standing a few feet from her. I aimed for him.

He gave me a sheepish smile and said, "You want to talk to her."

I smiled back and said, "Oh?"

"Yeah," he said, still sheepish. "I'm just a dumb truck driver."

How do you respond to that? I searched my brain for some way to spin his words that would help him feel better about himself...or at least let him know that I don't see truck drivers as dumb. Nothing came in the moment that didn't sound pretentious or condescending.

The difficulty, you see, is that I know how life has treated him to get him to the point where he would say something like this to a total stranger. Not specifics, of course. I don't know when or from whom his self-esteem took such a beating. I do know the type of negative words he's heard from others that wore him down and gave him the body language of a beaten puppy. I know the feelings of shame, inadequacy, and self-loathing. I know exactly what it feels like to hate yourself.

And no stranger on the other side of the counter can change those feelings. All a stranger can do is say a few words that contradict the feelings and point in another, more positive direction. These words will likely be ignored, like a single drop of rain in the desert. Just perhaps, they will fall on ground lightly seeded with hope and will eventually sprout and grow. In the moment, however, I was simply overwhelmed by the arid climate of this man's heart, smiled at him as compassionately as I could, and moved down the counter to the woman.

Even with my fairly healthy self-esteem, I suffer momentary return trips to the desert of negative self talk. I think, "You'll never be able to pull that off." Or, "What have you forgotten today, missy?" Or, "How can your house be such a mess. You're just a housewife and still can't get it right." These days, as soon as I'm conscious of these thoughts, I get out my watering can and do my best to drown them. Mostly, I succeed and am grateful. There was a time when my desert was much too big for the watering can to work.

As usual, my brain thought of something I could have said...ten minutes too late. Remember that episode of Seinfeld when George thought of the perfect comeback too late and fretted over it for the entire half-hour? When he finally said those tardy words, they sounded utterly ridiculous.

Life moves on.

Here's what I wish I had said to the man who saw himself as just a dumb truck driver: "Sir, you are not just anything. You are a beloved child of God."

Life moves on. My ill-timed comeback is useless for the truck driver, but perhaps, just perhaps, for someone reading this today, the timing is perfect.

"You are not just anything. You are a beloved child of God."

What sort of negative self-talk do you engage in? How do you fight it?


  1. Goodness, did you read my post from Monday? Negative self talk is so very destructive and I do my best to not feed into it. I do find myself on days wishing I had done better, wishing I had done more. I have learned to focus on all that I am grateful for. That my blessings are too great for me to count. Life does in fact move on. It can still be a struggle and we all need to remember, that each of us are doing the best we can, and we ARE a beloved child of God! Thanks!

  2. Poor man that he has been so undermined that he describes himself as just a dumb truck driver. What is annoying that possibly he has been undermined by people who wish to be superior but probably aren't.
    For years, as a child, my self worth, esteem and confidence was daily undermined by my mother and I learnt, when all grown up, that she did it to appear superior to me. It took many years to overcome all that negativity and there are times when the negative self talk pays a call but I soon recognise the bad visitor and stomp on it real hard :) My DH as been a good influence in my life and he gives the negative self talk a bloody nose too!

  3. Sigh...our DD was a victim of emotional abuse in a 6 year marriage. 1 1/2 years of that was spent in marital counseling and therapy ALONE, trying to figure out what was wrong with 'her', because of things he said. Years later, she still has trouble trusting a man, letting him 'in', etc., because she feels inadequate. She was told so many negative things so often that she began to believe them. He even beat down her steadfast faith. I didn't mean to tangent on you, but you brought out some 'ghosts'!

  4. I am trying to figure out how to fight negative self talk. I have had years of poor health, and because of that, I've gained a lot of weight. All I see when I look at myself is a fat person, and I don't know what to do with her. Until my health is under control, there really isn't anything I can do. I tell myself I need to embrace the person I am, but what do I do if I don't like her??

    I once dated a guy who was a mechanic and tow truck driver, and he used to always say he's "just" a mechanic. I told him that he's not just anything....heaven knows I certainly couldn't fix a car or pull one out of a pond.

    Know that your timing is perfect. I needed that. Thank you.

  5. It happens to everyone. I'm a bubble thinker so I know I just need to move on to the next bubble of thought. As I've gotten older, I slap my thigh to break the negitive bubble thought and force myself to move on to more positive work.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!