Is self-talk destroying you?
Shoulders hunched over, face in a scowl, the thoughts come…
“I’m so lousy at this…”
“I wish I’d never started…”
“I want to quit.”
Or maybe, like the woman in the story in Matthew 9:21, she perseveres, knowing – no, believing – for twelve years – that she will one day be healed.
But a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. For she kept saying to herself, “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.” But when Jesus turned and saw her he said, “Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed from that hour. Matthew 9:20-22
What had she been saying to herself for twelve years?
We don’t know for sure, but we do know her one statement – “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed” – after twelve years, her attitude was still positive. Certain. Through the crowd she made her way, touched Christ’s cloak, and He caught her. “Your faith has made you well,” He said.
When I first started having pain in my hands, I thought it was temporary. I spent several years going to specialists and heard everything from “it’s all in your head,” to, “you’re always going to feel this way.” We finally learned the pain shooting through my hands and up my arms such that I couldn’t pull up my underwear and had trouble holding a toothbrush was from bone-on-bone-style arthritis combined with severe tendonitis and a connective tissue disorder.
I spent about three years in non-stop pain until one afternoon, sobbing on the floor of my bathroom, exhausted from the physical struggles with a traveling husband and three little kids, I begged God for a break from it. The next day, all the pain was gone. My hands felt young, strong, useful again. As I slowly became active again, I learned my hands could be re-injured easily. This put limits on my activities – if I do too much, I am sore. I have to make choices about what I do – if I cut up peaches for jam, I cannot chop vegetables for several days for dinners. If I plant flowers in the garden, I can’t do laundry for several days. This disability has rendered me more dependent on others in my family, and humbled me. It’s also given my family opportunity to serve.
What I think about while dealing with it, however, is really important. I can focus on what I can’t do, in which case I become sad, my shoulders sag, and I easily become depressed. If I focus on what I can do instead, I stay positive. I can’t change my hands – only God can, and He’s chosen to leave me in this state. I’m okay with that. Who am I to question what He would do with my life?
At the risk of being associated with the “positive image” and “humanistic” view of God and the Bible, I want to talk about how we talk to ourselves. What we think about and what we feed ourselves thought-wise determines how many of our relationships will go – including the one we have with ourselves. There’s tons of research out there now about how what we think impacts us – and how body positioning impacts our feelings. We know that our physical being impacts our communication with others, but non-verbals also impact communication to ourselves!
Stand tall – feel confident and strong.
Shrug your shoulders, feel insecure or sad.
Frown, feel anxious or angry.
Smile – and generate happier thoughts.
Thought research is astonishing.
The bottom line is that we just need to act as if we are the person we wish to be, stop focusing on what we aren’t, and we will feel much better. I’m guessing this makes it easier to manage our thoughts, too. Something unexpected comes out of this latest flurry of research, too. Self-esteem isn’t really the goal – self-compassion is. If we want to feel less anxious, we need to become more compassionate – toward self – and others.
It is nearly impossible to think of others first and love people well when we don’t know who we are and Whose we are. We will either feed our minds with earthly thoughts, or holy ones – and they will impact all of our relationships because these thoughts show up as attitudes and words.
If you really believe your parents favored one of your siblings over you, the negative thoughts you have about that will spill over into interactions with them – and their responses will just reinforce your belief.
If you really believe your boyfriend or spouse is going to leave you, these thoughts also show up in the words you say to yourself and to your loved one – generating a response that lines up with your thinking, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Most people respond to negativity with negativity of their own – it’s human nature. So if you want to sabotage a relationship, start believing bad things about yourself and the other person. These thoughts are unhealthy, unhelpful, and things we want to avoid because they increase the likelihood of harming the relationship.
Matthew 12:34 reminds us that out of the heart the mouth speaks. Whatever we’re putting into our minds and feeding our hearts is going to spill out onto other people, and be recycled by us again.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that God has specific things for us to think about – and as it happens, these things show up in our self-talk. Several verses come to mind:
After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness. Deuteronomy 9:4
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:18-19
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, But his heart is not with you. Proverbs 23:7
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2
Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:2
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7
If we will recognize that we can influence our thoughts by “taking them captive” and choose to transform our minds by what we think about and how we choose to act, we can change the relationship we have with ourselves. This matters a lot because it is out of this relationship that the others flow.
What About You?
Choose to spend a few moments thinking about the last several days and what you actually did when responding to the first few questions:
- What thoughts about yourself do you have in your mind about yourself most often? Are they encouraging thoughts or do you tear yourself down?
- How do these thoughts then influence your behavior?
- Think of the last interaction you had (like a conflict) where you “knew why” someone did what s/he did – without even talking to him or her? How did this assumption affect your communication?
- Why do you suppose people think they know another person’s motives? What is the truth about Who knows our motives? What verse can you find about motives?
- How does your self-talk influence the way you hold yourself physically?
- Does your self-talk represent the person you are or the person you aspire to be? How?
- What is the difference between being prideful and having humble and healthy self-talk? (think self-compassion – check the link!)
Pray with me?
Heavenly Father. You have knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am perfectly and wonderfully made. I am not a mistake, but a beautiful creation of Yours. Thank You, God, for giving me a mind to think with, thoughts to share and give voice to. Help me remember the truth of Your Word – help me choose the right thoughts, take those that are not helpful or healthy captive and tame them to obey Your Word.
Transform my mind, Oh Lord. And renew a right spirit within me. Help me have thoughts that are holy – and thank You, God, for making my body communicate with my mind! I just love it that it is possible to change my mood by changing the way I’m standing or sitting and the expression on my face.
Give me the mind of Your Son and help me become an ambassador for You that makes You smile. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
This dare is very simple.
Perhaps not easy, however. Don’t get discouraged if you catch yourself stumbling more often than being successful with it. New habits take time to form. Persistence is the key.
Ready? Here it is: actively choose, multiple times a day, to smile and stand or sit with your shoulders back, sitting or standing “tall” if you will. Keep track of how this makes you feel, and how it affects your thinking. Try it right now, and keep the position for at least a minute.
During the day, as you catch yourself telling yourself things that are not encouraging and tear you down, turn those thoughts around. Physically sit or stand confidently, smiling (with your eyes, too, not just a mouth smile, but put on a full face sparkle!). Pay attention to how that makes you feel different.
Keep doing this daily. If you have trouble remembering to do it, put a sticky note somewhere you will see it often – write “smile tall” on it to capture both ideas and remind you to do both.
We are seriously interested in hearing your reaction and thoughts about these things today.
Chime in on the comments section below with your initial response, and then after you do the exercises, come back and let’s keep talking.
Love to you,
Want to peek into the journey of 6 women who accepted the challenge? Check out Dare to Respect by Tammy Oberg De La Garza