By Ava Roman
There’s more to negative self-talk than merely feeling sorry for yourself. Of course, everyone experiences moments of feeling discouraged — it’s a normal aspect of life. While it’s important to be self-aware and recognize your mistakes, it’s more important to be self-compassionate and kind.
When negative words are the primary language you use to communicate with yourself, they harm your attitude and behavior. To have healthy relationships with others, you should start with yourself. Here are five steps to embrace vulnerability and let go of negative self-talk.
1. Recognize Where Negative Self Talk Comes From
You might be familiar with negative self-talk that sounds like, “Don’t show them who you really are. They would want nothing to do with you,” or “Why would you want to put yourself out there? You’ll make a fool of yourself.” This voice reinforces old, negative beliefs that can make you feel anxious or afraid of being vulnerable with others.
It may not have started with you — maybe an adult or friend said something that made you feel small. This fear can sometimes create a judgemental and harsh critical inner voice as a protective mechanism to keep you from being hurt again.
However, your willingness to be vulnerable helps you build a close and positive connection with yourself and others. When you recognize where the critical inner voice comes from and how it tries to prevent you from the perceived risk of being vulnerable, you can better practice self-compassion and guide yourself to more positive thinking.
2. Turn Negativity to Neutrality
A great way to develop positive self-talk is to change the intensity of the negative language. When you find bad thoughts swirling, change the negative words to statements more neutral and gentle than the initial thought. “I can’t do anything right” becomes “I made a mistake and I’m disappointed, but there are ways to prevent this in the future.” If you begin by changing the negative to neutral, it’ll become easier to reframe situations and silence the inner critic.
Another way to do this is to acknowledge your improvements. A statement like “I’m getting better at speaking calmly to my kids when they are misbehaving” feels more honest than “I don’t yell at my kids” because you can point to something tangible in your life that matches the words. Be gentle with yourself and constantly remind yourself that you are improving.
3. Remind Yourself You’re Doing the Best You Can
A critical inner voice can make you feel like advice columns and studies are pointing out your shortcomings. While the advice and parenting tips are helpful, avoid slipping into comparison and perfectionism. These habits can affect your confidence and bring up the fear of making mistakes.
Accept that you will misstep along the way and struggle to figure out different aspects of your role as a parent. It comes with the territory. Part of vulnerability is allowing yourself to be open to the possibility of imperfection. In those moments, you can practice self-compassion and develop a healthy relationship with yourself.
When you feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of others — whether it’s your children, your parents or other family members — make time to maintain your well-being with rest and self-care. Self-care activities like mindfulness, deep breathing, and meditation can help you let go of negative thoughts and stress.
4. Start a Journal
If you’ve been critical of yourself for many years, trying to be kind and speak positively may initially feel strange and unfamiliar. Author Mel Robbins suggests daily journaling to help you reframe your thoughts. Every morning — before you talk to anyone or begin the morning routine with the kids — take a few minutes to write down five things you want.
It could be getting a breakfast bagel at your favorite coffee shop after a school run or a new pair of yoga pants. Or it could be rekindling intimacy with your partner or developing a better relationship with your teens. Write down why you want these things. As you complete this exercise every day, your brain will shift towards putting effort into making those things happen.
5. Share Your Life
Vulnerability builds connection. It’s something you can even do with your younger kids. When they know their parent also gets scared sometimes or needs a break, they can communicate those feelings to you without being afraid.
Vulnerability with your kids shows your relationship with them is more than parental authority or fear. It affects their relationships, their performance in school or life in general. Studies show children who perceive their parents as authoritarian have less self-efficacy when they face academic challenges. Your hesitation about being vulnerable is the same fear that might keep your kids from being vulnerable and honest, especially when they grow older.
Creating a safe space where they can ask you the same questions you ask them builds trust and a deeper connection. Vulnerability also means being open and honest about your challenges with your partner or friend. At different stages of parenthood, you deal with various issues, and being vulnerable will help you get the support you need at every stage of your children’s growth and development.
Embrace Vulnerability and Be Kind to Yourself
With all your efforts to take care of your children and other responsibilities, you deserve kindness and compassion in every moment. You are doing your best and taking steps to improve your self-talk is commendable. By reframing situations and learning how to talk to yourself with kindness, you can experience a more fulfilling life.
Ava Roman (she/her) is the Managing Editor of Revivalist, a women’s lifestyle magazine that empowers women to live their most authentic life. When she is not writing you’ll find Ava in a yoga class, advocating for body positivity, whipping up something delicious in the kitchen, or smashing the patriarchy.