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20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem--page 6
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Step 6. Be Courteous in Your Self-talk.

Many times when I catch people engaging in negative self-talk they will say, “But it's the truth!” However, truth can be cloaked in many ways depending upon what we want to accomplish. How often when confronting others do you describe them or their behavior as negatively as your own? You may change the wording when talking to someone else. Where you might call your idea “stupid” you may tell your co-worker “That idea has merit but we need something that will make an impact more quickly.” You don't say "That dress makes you look fat" to a friend but "That color flatters you." This step does not mean that you should ignore flaws but that you don't need to be so negative in your focus and self-talk.

This step is choosing to talk to yourself with the same courtesy you give to others. To begin to do so, write down a negative self-statement and see if you can look at it in a more positive (or, at least, neutral) way. Change the wording so it is not so pejorative. “I'm stupid because I didn't know what they were talking about” can become “I can't know everything. That doesn't mean I am stupid. In fact, I could ask questions because people like talking about what they are interested in. They don't expect me to know everything.” Or, “I'm ugly because I'm fat” can be “I may be overweight but that doesn't mean I'm unattractive. There's plenty of people who are overweight who attract others. I just need to focus on my attractive features.” Notice how this statement doesn't even use the more negative label of “ugly” when refuting it.

I find this step can be difficult for people because they have repeated these beliefs for so long they can't see another way to rephrase the statement. If this is true for you, imagine that you are describing someone else. How would you say it to another person without necessarily changing the content but changing the wording? Another way to think about changing wording is how people describe themselves on a resume. For instance, “perfectionistic” can become “detail oriented” and “controlling” can become “leadership ability.”

Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the sheer number of negative self-statements but you don't need to change everything at once. Try to change one self-statement a day. You can use the life script you wrote and examine it for negative self-statements. When you find one, re-write it so that it is more courteous to you. Then cross out the previous statement and insert the new one into your life script. In this way, you can re-write your life script to be a more positively focused reflection of you.


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