It Starts With Me - Shifting Our Internal Dialogue
It starts with me.
Changing the conversation that we have about mental health starts with the conversation that we have about our own mental health. Not only have we stigmatized mental health out in the world, we have stigmatized it in our own minds.
Stigmatization means the action of describing or regarding someone or something as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval.
As we work to change the conversation surrounding mental health, we must also acknowledge our internal dialogue. De-stigmatizing our own mental health is a part of the healing. De-stigmatizing ourselves means accepting ourselves, and seeing ourselves as worthy of living happy and fulfilled lives.
In our most recent video we share a couple of stigmatizing beliefs and narratives that we can use to speak to ourselves. We also provide an alternative dialogue. Making subtle shifts in the way that we speak to ourselves help us have better conversations, and facilitate a newfound freedom in the way that choose a path of recovery and healing.
Below are 3 ways that you can incorporate positive self dialogue into your life.
1. Compliment yourself.
Look for your small victories in a day and celebrate them by giving yourself a compliment. “You did a great job”, “I love the way that you did that”, “That took a lot of strength, good for you”.
We often use our inner voice to berate ourselves for not being good enough. This is a conditioned response to a comparative society that is constantly telling us that we need this to look better, this to think better, this to feel better. These high expectations can leave us feeling underwhelmed by our own unique gifts and capacities.
Starting a habit of complimenting yourself for the little victories is a great way to help develop your confidence, and your relationship with yourself. Start small! “You put your shoes on the right feet, good on ya!”, “You remembered to eat breakfast this morning, you are a champ!”.
It can sound silly at first, but developing our inner dialogue can sometimes be a fake it till you make it game.
Another trick - put sticky notes in places that you frequent to remind you to give out compliments, to yourself and others! The cool thing about developing our ability to celebrate ourselves, is that it helps us be better at recognizing the victories in other people’s lives which can enhance their experience of life too. We all feel good when someone gives us a sincere compliment about our character.
2. Root for yourself!
Psychologist Albert Bandura characterized a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a task or situation as self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is closely linked to how perseverant you are: how much you believe that you can actually manage a task, a relationship or improve yourself.
Studies show that people with high levels of self efficacy actually work harder to accomplish their goals because they believe that they can achieve them. Imagine training for a big hockey game but you had no belief in your team’s ability to win. How would you practice? How would you train? You probably wouldn’t work nearly as hard.
Being affirmative about your ability to succeed by saying things like “I’ve got this”, “I believe in myself”, “I don’t have to do this alone”, can empower us to make decisions that fuel us in reaching our goals. When it comes to our mental health, this can foster a more hospitable internal environment for us to create plans for the future, to visualize ourselves succeeding, and to allow others to support us.
Sometimes when we are very depressed or anxious it can be hard to envision a positive future for ourselves. A great exercise is to sit down and write out your ideal day, how you want to feel, what you are doing, who you are with, be as explicit with the details as you possibly can. Keep it by your bedside table, or on your fridge. When you feel low or anxious, read it over. It may not feel real. It may feel fake. But reminding our nervous system, of who we want to be, can interrupt our hurt, even just for a moment, so that we can feel again a sense of hope.
3. Use a kind tone when you speak to yourself.
Talk to yourself like you kind of like yourself. Seriously. We can be judgemental and mean and talk to ourselves through clenched teeth. What if you talked to yourself with the same tone that you would speak to a loved one, or a child. Think about what happened the last time someone got angry with you. What happened in your body? Did your shoulders shrug to your ears in embarrassment? Did your cheeks turn red? Did you feel like you shrunk down to 2 inches tall? If the biological response you have when someone speaks with anger to you is negative, you are creating a similar biological response when you speak with a harsh tone to yourself. What was your experience when someone spoke to you with kindness? Even if it was a hard conversation? Maybe you felt like you had space to speak, or that you were understood, appreciated, accepted and valuable? When we speak to ourselves with a kind tone we too can simulate an experience of feeling understood, appreciated, accepted and valuable.
As you accept a new, improved way of talking and connecting with yourself, it’s essential that you observe the tone you use in your internal dialogue. A warm tone, when taken again and again, helps people accept themselves just as they are. Everyone has limitations, and accepting yourself, limitations and all, leads to increased self-esteem.