As I continue to work on things away from this blog (which is a collection of Free-Time/Casual Online Writing, Remarks, And Notes By ME Whelan) and continue to figure out what goes and what stays of my existing online-writing, the de-emphasizing of one or another continues as well....

Monday, June 1, 2015

Not All Negative Self-Talk Is The Same

April 4, 2014 Every time I run into an article or post about "negative self-talk", I always find myself asking if I should, maybe, ease up with some of negative self-talk that I do. Reading or hearing someone say how bad it is that so many of are pretty mean to ourselves is enough to at least make me wonder if I change my ways (at least a little).

After all, I'm REALLY mean to myself when I do something "stupid", for example. All these articles that are out there about "negative self-talk" remind readers not to be any harsher on themselves than they are on other people. In fact, most people who engage in negative self-talk would never even think about saying the same kinds of things, and in the same kind of tone, to anyone else.

By the way, I keep wanting to put quotes around "negative self-talk" because there's just something kind of corny or cringe-worthy or "too-pop-psychology" about that phrase. I don't know... Using that particular phrase just makes me feel like I'm adopting a kind of thinking that isn't my own. Well, to put that another way: It makes me feel like I'm borrowing the thinking of mental-health professionals who don't always, really, think for themselves (or else adequately sort out some things for themselves), but who then have a way of getting a bunch of non-professionals not-thinking-for-themselves either. I don't know... You know? Clearly, I'm straying from my main point. Well, actually, I'm not really. I'm just taking a peculiar route as far as getting to it goes....

Back to the "negative-self-talk" thing (and while I'll stop putting quotation marks around the term, please keep in mind that they're there in mind, every time I use that phrase. :) ).........

Now, I don't think there's ever been anyone in my life who has been as "mean" to me as I may seem to be when I do something "stupid". I mean... I'm a big one for doing something like knocking over a cup of tea and saying to myself (in a disgusted tone, of course), "You idiot!" In fact, I don't just call myself names after I've done something. Sometimes I start calling myself names as a way of making sure I don't the same kind of thing again. For example: "OK, you idiot. Do not put that cup of tea anywhere near that laptop cable! You don't need to clean up that mess yet one more time - and, by the way, move the cell phone and tablet so that there's no way any spilled tea will get anywhere even close to them again."

Then, too (for example), right after I do something like the whole self-talk scenario described about, I may do some other "stupid" thing, like miss the trash container when I've chosen to "play basketball" instead of taking the safer approach.

(The basketball approach to trash is just more fun in some small way. I'm careful about what types of trash I'll do that with, so it's never the "end-of-the-world" if something ends up on the floor. I just requires walking over and picking it up (more exercise for me, if you think about - so how "stupid", really, is either making a little bit of fun out of throwing something in the trash while "risking", maybe, getting a little "unnecessary" exercise if I miss??? Oh, and believe me, I really don't miss very often; and that, useless little "skill", in itself, makes me feel in some tiny, tiny, way like a slilghtly big cheese - for just a fraction of a moment. Then, however, I inevitably tell myself what a moron, a jerk, and an idiot I am for thinking it's even the tiniest bit of a big deal to have such a great "record" when it comes to not missing on the game of "Trash Basketball". (And, by the way, while my "record" is good it's actually not ALL THAT great. :) )

So, yes, I actually can be a small-minded, immature, "loser-jerk-moron" at times. The thing is, however, when I call myself those things (and, yes, I call myself those kinds of things pretty frequently), I don't really mean them - and I know that too. That's the thing about negative self-talk (at least about the kind that I do): I don't mean it. I't's part sense-of-humor, part (yes) "mild disgust" with myself sometimes, and part just allowing myself to really "just be me" and not need to do things like edit out, or control, the urge to say "that was stupid" - because sometimes whatever it was WAS, in fact, stupid in some way; but sometimes, too, just the act of expressing something other than "pure niceness" just feels good.

(Well, it's said that profanity sometimes serves that kind of purpose for people too. I'm not defending profanity, but the fact is there are times when it helps someone let off some "anger steam", and but there are also times when the person using it may just be trying to add "an edge" to his attempt to show the humor in some things.)

The thing (at least for me) is that I'm an understanding person, a person who understands things like accidents and mistakes and oversights, and a person who always tries not to let someone else feel bad about his own mistakes and mess-ups. Most mistakes/mess-ups aren't the result of someone's being "stupid", so I understand other people's mistakes/mess-ups and just wouldn't call them "stupid". On the other hand, there are people who truly are "stupid" about some things. The thing with other people's "truly being stupid" in some way is that I'm reasonable enough (and smart enough) to know it's not their fault. So, no matter what the mistake/mess-up of someone else may be; not only isn't there ever justification to be anything other than understanding toward others who have meant no harm or damage, but it would be (shall I say) stupid as well.

I know we're all different, and some people are pretty free with unreasonable, even cruel, words that blame others for what is not their doing, that demean those one thinks deserves to be demeaned, or that fluff up the ego of the person who needs to feel superior (and one can't feel superior when one understands, of course). I'm not one of those people, though. I've never been mean. I've always tried to be understanding. For me, it's most often a matter of either "someone didn't mean it", "someone didn't know any better", and/or "the same kind of thing could have happened to anybody". So, with the mistakes/mess-ups of others falling under those categories when, exactly, would calling someone else a "jerk" be appropriate?

No, I don't want to hurt or insult or embarrass the person who has made an understandable mistake. And, I really am not the kind who would allow myself to feel superior just because, for example, I may have better judgment in one area or another than someone else has. Who is "smart" in what areas has never been my personal "measure of a man". Who is "smarter" in some ways than others is so often little more than "luck-of-the-draw" in one way or another. So, my "measure of a man/woman" has always been whether someone respects others and treats them with, if nothing else, respect; but ideally, with kindness.

So, with this "personal measure" of a person and "code", I have pretty much spent my whole life being understanding and/or "overlooking". I'm far from being a person who is "willing to be walked on" or who "lets things slide"; but even with that there are times when understanding and/or overlooking is really all that a person can do (particularly in personal, rather than less-than-personal, relationships).

The fact is, not only do I not go around "letting off steam" on anyone who has made some mistake that has affected me, but in my attempt to try not to let other people feel too bad about any mess-ups they do that involve me; I kind of do a lot of pretending to understand some things more than I really do. Between "the road to hell being paved with good (or at least not-nasty) intentions, and the other road to hell being paved with other-than-good intentions; I've had quite a few stints in one hell or another over the years without being able to be free enough to let off "anger steam" on the person/people to whom it should have/would have been directed if I'd be willing to hurt (and I mean REALLY hurt them). When this is how a person chooses to deal with the mess-ups/mistakes of others it means a person can kind of feel as if head is going to explode a good part of the time.

When it comes to negative self-talk, I'm pretty bad about it. I "yell" at myself not just for things are "mess-ups" or "mistakes", but for things I shouldn't (and don't really) blame myself over (getting a cold, getting an injury, "allowing myself" to be victimized in some way, the list goes on and on). The thing is, however, that it doesn't matter what I "yell at myself for" or what names I call myself; because a) I'm a grown-up and really can take being called names by myself, and b) I know that I don't mean any of it anyway. I pretty much use the small stuff that I do, or that happens to me, as a way of letting off a little "anger steam" or "frustration steam" mostly because it's actually kind of fun (in a weird way) to feel at least that free-enough to express myself. Because, after all, it isn't always just about what we think, understand and/or can overlook; but about how we feel about something as well.

I think when it comes to negative self-talk (and I know I could be wrong), what can make one big difference is whether we actually believe what we're saying in those few seconds of "yelling at ourself", or whether we're so secure we know the difference between "just feeling a little freer to express" and, say, truly believing that we are "an idiot" or "a jerk".

One might ask if when I call myself a name, for doing something like knocking over a cup of tea, I'm "really taking out on myself some kind of pent up anger toward other people and/or life"; and, honestly, I really don't think so. To me, it just feels more like using some of those more minor mistakes/mishaps in life as a way of venting a little "steam", but also having that chance to just express a little disgust toward the one responsible for whatever happened - without having to worry about what "she'll" think, whether "she'll" think I really mean it, etc. etc. Besides, calling, say, something like a knocked-over teacup "stupid" or a "jerk" is a whole, other, kind of thing that suggests blaming things like teacups for their own accidents.

On the other hand, another option might be to resort to profanity, but - I don't know - sometimes profanity (besides really being kind of meaningless, at least when it's being used in response to a mishap or mistake, but also much of the time in general) is kind of like throwing out into the air a bad word, or a little bit of "letting off steam", without the more personal and satisfying element of just ("for once in your life" - although it's not "once", of course) being able to call someone who has screwed up in some way "idiot", "jerk", "stupid", or whatever one wants to call someone; when the matter is small enough that it doesn't matter a whole lot anyway, and when that "someone" isn't going to be angry or hurt as a result.

When it comes down to it, I've always been very careful about things like blaming myself or getting angry with myself over the more important/more emotional issues of life. Also, I'm really not one to take anger out on the wrong person; whether that "wrong person" is someone else of myself.

So, I don't know.... I probably have my share of some types of self-esteem "issues". (I've never really been able to sort out some of those, in view of the fact that I'm a kind of strange mix of different types of confidence and, I suppose, self-esteem. Either way, though, I'm fairly certain that my own negative self-talk isn't just harmless to me, but may even be kind of healthy.

Image: ME Whelan

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