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Self talk in the following context refers to the way in which one talks to oneself; our internal dialogue that is observable through witnessing our thoughts, judgements, evaluations and decisions. Most of these cognitive functions occur automatically as the developed adult brain processes and organises information in accordance with daily life situations. Self talk also develops and is influenced by social interactions that we internalise and process and contributes to how we then form an internal communication web with ourselves and is reflected in our self esteem; the value which we place on ourselves.

Self talk has been noted to have a significant correlation to self esteem as it is the medium through which language, messages, information is delivered and processed with emotional, feeling and mental constructs attached to them. Self esteem relates to our ability to manage and recover from life stressors, the value that we attribute to ourselves and the extent to which we essentially accept ourselves. The two are therefore intertwined in a dynamic that is qualitatively reflected in personal well-being, health and happiness.

Low self esteem is a complex character to gain understanding of; there are extensive variables to be factored in to assess one’s self esteem. Due to the importance of developing healthy self esteem growing up, factors such as experience of and exposure to trauma are representative and often reflect a person’s self esteem. As external influences and interactions from the environment, family, society, culture and peers are internalised from a young age, the resulting self talk that develops strongly correlates to self esteem.

The following article provides resources, practices and approaches for integrating self talk and self esteem towards a healthier, happier state of well-being.

A quick dive into self talk

Self talk is the internal dialogue that forms our narrative in thought form consisting of beliefs, judgements, decisions, rationale and reason. During childhood development as our cognitive function develops, we take in our environment and surroundings as learned experiences that transform into mental constructs and an organised narrative; self talk. As this develops at speed, subconsciously, it becomes part of our fixed view of life and our skills in reason, decision making, calculations, evaluations and judgements solidify as a result.

A natural partner in this function that develops alongside self-talk is our self esteem; the extent to which we are able to cope with challenges in life and recover from them too. Self esteem is directly reflected as the value in which we subconsciously place on ourselves, which is linked to confidence, a common inclusion in self esteem. Perhaps crucially, the varying degrees of self esteem seem to be reflected in the nuance of a person’s internal resources to bring confidence to our mind’s ability and believe in the decisions we make.

Self talk represents the automatic messages that are being processed by our brains each day that are all filtered through experiences that have formed from our wider belief systems that drive our behaviours and result in our reactions, mentally and emotionally to information, situations and interactions.

Nathaniel Branden identified six pillars of building self esteem:

  • The practice of living consciously
  • The practice of self-acceptance
  • The practice of self-responsibility
  • The practice of self-assertiveness
  • The practice of living purposefully
  • The practice of personal integrity

These can serve as guidelines into the considerations for building self esteem in a conscious, intentional effort. The relationship between self talk and self esteem have shown that the one influences the other and vice versa. Therefore the quality of this relationship is key to well-being.

Is low self esteem just about confidence?

Confidence does play a role in self esteem and indeed, is a contributing factor to overall well-being. The confidence with which we believe in ourselves, our judgements, decisions and capability to deal with situations effectively reveals the depth of the role. Furthermore, the confidence in which we put into action corrective measures in dealing with stressful situations as they arise reflects the success we have in resolving these situations and to what degree we coped in navigating it too.

“Of all the judgments that we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves, for that judgment touches the very center of our existence.” Nathaniel Branden, Honoring the Self: Self-Esteem and Personal Transformation

Low self esteem can show up, but is not limited to, the following ways:

  • Negative self talk
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of self worth
  • Apathy
  • Low confidence
  • Pleasing people tendencies

Low self esteem is rooted in fear; an inherent fear that there is something wrong with me. This fear is deeply embedded in our psyche and is reflected in the quality of self talk, i.e. are the voices kind and compassionate or critical and judgemental of the self? (and often projected at others). If we grew up with people, culture, educators, society, peers and family with strong, influencing, often negative messaging about the value and worth of each human being, implicitly and explicitly, then lower self esteem tends to develop.

These messages are running through our psyche and minds as we absorb them, internalising them as our own and self esteem is rooted in this, rather than a healthy, loving self view that would otherwise form. Additionally, dependent behaviours such as people-pleasing tendencies can occur from low self esteem.

Raising self esteem with compassionate self talk

Perhaps crucially, the crux of self esteem is developing from one’s own internal value system and beliefs rather than depending on others, or using external influences as the guide and motivator of one’s own value placed on the self. A deep subjective examination is required for this process to occur; to unravel that which is not yours and create space for what resonates in alignment with your true essence. There are various modalities that address the cognitive and behavioural aspects, however, the additional emotional and spiritual aspects are equally important to develop holistically alongside too.

As negative self talk and low self esteem are rooted in fear based beliefs and experiences, the counter balancing energy to meet fear with, is love. Self compassion is a way of expressing love to ourselves; accepting one’s feelings towards ourselves from a place of empathy, respect and gentleness. The counterpart of negative self talk is compassionate self talk; together these approaches begin to alter the quality of self talk towards healthier ways of self relating and thus raise self esteem.

A study with patients of childhood trauma that correlated low self esteem, low self compassion and complex trauma responses such as Borderline Personality Disorder found that compassionate self talk provided a therapeutic method of more effectively recovering from trauma. Interestingly, more so than self esteem. The significance of self talk is therefore vital in understanding complex trauma responses, as well as providing a method of cultivating self compassion, through which self talk also benefits as does mental health and overall well-being.

This prayer can be practised in the form of a mantra where you repeat it several times, until you connect deeply with the words and feelings that arise from the heart. Cultivating forgiveness for yourself brings self compassion and love too. Working with this consciously with a strong intention magnifies the practice; reprogramming and reframing many situations, relationships and challenges that are causing suffering and holding you stuck, unable to move forwards.

How to begin cultivating compassionate self talk

  • Mindfulness: Raising self awareness of your everyday thoughts, judgements and beliefs, and seeing they how specifically relate to your sense of self esteem
  • Meditation: Provides space for your thoughts, beliefs and judgements that are non-loving, to be observed, acknowledged, accepted and let go. The practice of meditation and allowing to be in present, moment to moment awareness, cultivates compassion as you learn to accept what is, rather than judge or resist it
  • Journaling: Provides insight to non-loving judgements and provides opportunity to create compassionate responses to replace negative, unhealthy ones. Witnessing the way you talk yourself through writing provides insight into the quality of self talk and consciously efforting yourself to apply self compassion
  • Affirmations: Provide new neural pathways to speak more compassionately to yourself. Creating affirmations, which are words and short phrases to reinforce loving, compassionate self talk is a way to embody both the cognitive and emotional aspects of the self to be activated and integrated

Resources and practices for enhancing self esteem

Self esteem stems from the value that you place on yourself, which is formed as a result of predominantly external influences; from family, social environment, school, education, teachers, peers, culture and the belief system you are born into. Low self esteem occurs as a result of poor value and judgement placed on yourself, that have been internalised subconsciously since childhood and become stories that you tell yourself without realising the impact. This is where the bridge of self talk comes in and how vital raising awareness of self talk is for your own well-being and subsequent healing.

Self talk is a significant factor in well-being and is reflected in our levels of self esteem and confidence. In particular, cultivating a practice based on self compassion is an effective way to unravel programmed self talk that is not supportive towards self compassion. The beginnings of where to get started with cultivating more self compassion are through mindfulness based techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, journaling and affirmations.

Additionally, cognitive behavioural therapy and many cognitive focused interventions are supportive, as well as holistic approaches to healing and trauma work including energy work, inner child work, somatic experiencing, Internal Family Systems and frameworks that provide training, tools and techniques on how to build self esteem, recover self talk to be supportive, loving and compassionate. The result of which enhances quality of life; greater health, well-being and living aligned with who you truly are, rather than one programmed.

For a comprehensive write up of self talk as a tool for well-being there are articles to read more here. Additionally, for more information and resources on building emotional resilience with self talk there’s a helpful article here.

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