Annie Cap, author of It’s Your Choice: Uncover Your Brilliance using The Iceberg Process, explains how women are often their own biggest critics.
Q: What does negative self-talk look like?
A: Negative self-talk can appear innocent and harmless or downright disgusting or vicious. You might say “I’m a fat ass,” “You’re cr**” or “I’m worthless.” Perhaps you limit yourself with taunts of “I’m so stupid!,” “It’s pointless. What’s the use.”, “I’m rubbish at everything” or “I can’t believe he likes me with the way I look.” Or say horribly derogatory statements like “I’m a sh**-head” or “Sl*t” or anxiously “I better not complain, they might leave me or get angry”. The variety of mental jabs and punches you deliver upon yourself are endless, and they have become routine and accepted, even expected by you. These personal attacks have one thing in common: they restrict your future opportunities, confidence, relationships and health. Personal offensive self-talk will usually be centred around not being good enough (smart enough, attractive enough or capable), not being lovable or worth loving and not being safe.
Q. Where does it come from?
A: Like much of your behaviour, negative self-depreciating or down-right abusive, paralysing self-talk is learned and comes from conditioning. You enter this world with an almost clear mental canvas. Then you accumulate information which adjusts your beliefs and limits your possibilities. What you hear, feel or perceive leaves it mark on you – this includes whether you feel or are safe, cared for, loved, valued, acknowledged and accepted. Shocking, embarrassing, fearful and other strongly emotional and repetitive incidents play an exceptionally influential part in the development of negative self-talk.
Q. Are women more vulnerable to this kind of internalized negativity than men?
A: Society puts intense pressures on each gender, but women suffer from unachievable expectations about appearance and disempowered behaviour. The fashion industry has taught you not to be happy with your real appearance and natural, healthy body shape. The belief that you’re suppose to look like a waif or stray, have the skin, waist and breast size of an ten-year old, with a characterless face and not an ounce of fat is simply ridiculous. You’re supposed to bring on the Botox and starvation diets more intensely as you age whilst men can happily, gracefully develop into their deep furrowed faces and still be considered roughly distinguished and handsome forever. If men get a little beer belly or a bit soft, you think they’re adorable and cuddly like a teddy bear. If women get a pounch or cellulite due to hormones, you’re a ‘pig’ and ‘have let yourself go’! There’s tremendous societal inequality in the expectations of the genders. It’s not just about appearance but also the display of confidence and power. Remember though, these [beliefs] are learned, which means they can be unlearned and reversed.
Q. How does negative self-talk affect a woman’s sense of happiness?
A: In three little words, learned negative self-talk ‘screws you up’! It limits who you are and who you can be. It actually diminishes your beauty as stress hormones block the release of DHEA, the body’s natural anti-aging chemical and it ‘screws up’ your true potential. In short, it has the capacity to waste your life and limit your experience to being dismal and lackluster instead of brilliant.
Q: What’s your advice/tips for any woman who wants to stop being so self-critical?
A: The number one piece of advice I can offer for stopping self-criticism is to become aware of what you say and think. Awareness is always the first step to any transformation. Then decide that you are going to correct your negativity, replacing it with positive, countering statements, thus taking responsibility for how you feel. I call this ‘good mental hygiene.’ You can start this today. If you hear yourself saying “I’m worthless” immediately say “No, I’m okay” or “I have value.” If you hear “You’re ugly” in your head, I want you to change this to “I’m okay just the way I am.” If you feel at all uneasy, say to yourself “I’m safe, I’m safe, it’s okay, I’m safe.” This is simple cognitive behavioural work but more powerfully I’d like you to identify where your self-talk, behaviour and negative beliefs have come from.