Positive Identity and Negative Thoughts
It is nearly impossible to maintain a sense of positive identity or good self-esteem when our minds are filled with negative and critical thoughts. Unfortunately, many of our thoughts play in our minds just below the surface of our conscious thought. They are the underlying belief system that governs our life, the foundation of our identity but we are largely unaware of them and, without effort, could not verbalize them.
Take a minute to think about yourself. What do you really believe about yourself? Do you believe that you are a good person? Do you believe that you are capable of success? Do you believe that you have a value that attracts others to you? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, ask yourself why? If you are able to access the answer, you will have identified some of your negative self-talk that contributes to a feeling of low self-esteem.
Where do these thoughts come from? Most of them were formed early in our lives. The input of parents, peers, teachers, television, music and culture helped us to determine what we believed about life and ourselves. Unfortunately, children have a great ability to remember events and words from their past but are poor interpreters of those words and events, not having the depth or context with which to evaluate them. The result is that something said to us or some circumstance that impacted us takes on a distorted meaning and a belief about life and/or ourselves is internalized.
This is definitely true in my life. I experienced some sexual molestation from an older male. It was my first sexual experience and left me confused. As a child, I only had a certain amount of information with which to evaluate this event. I had heard about ‘homos’ and ‘queers’ at school and it was not a good label in the late 60’s! My church taught that homosexuals would go to hell. Because of this information, I desperately did not want to be a homosexual but I had enjoyed the sexual release and so felt that I must be one. I internalized this truth but refuse to deal with it. It formed a negative identity in me. I wasn’t being true to myself… I wasn’t like other people… there was something wrong with me.
Only after becoming an adult did I have the courage to talk this event through and evaluate it with more information and with others. I was able to discard some of my negative beliefs about myself and accept myself for who I was!
If you struggle with a negative identity or low self-esteem, think through the following steps:
1) Determine the negative thoughts that run through your mind about yourself and about life. You may accomplish this by journaling, spending time with a therapist or just asking yourself deep questions about what you believe about life and about yourself.
2) Put words to these negative thoughts and write them down in a list. Read them out loud and hear how they sound. Allow yourself to react to these words. Share these words with others and allow them to react as well. Hopefully, this will help you to become uncomfortable with believing these thoughts.
3) Determine where these thoughts may have come from. What person, event or situation may have contributed to this internalized thought? It may be difficult to isolate a particular event but you may be able to determine a time period in your life when this became your belief.
4) Re-evaluate the situation, event or conversation that gave birth to these negative thoughts. Have you given too much power to this event or person? Have you interpreted it with too little information or input? Perhaps talking this out with a friend or a therapist would help.
5) Begin to tell yourself that these thoughts are not true. Whenever they come into your mind, cast them out as lies. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul instructed Christians in the early church at Corinth to “take every thought captive”. He understood the power of negative thinking!
6) In conversation with friends or a therapist, come up with 3 or 4 positive statements about yourself or about life that can replace some of the more powerful negative thoughts that are on your list. Put these truths on 3 x 5 cards and post them in places where you will see them regularly. The negative thoughts have been reinforced for years and it will take awhile before you begin to believe these new truths.
As you work through these steps, you will become more aware of the negative thoughts that have been in your mind for years. You can allow the entrance of one of these thoughts to trigger an intentional effort to speak the new, more positive truth to yourself. Over time, as you begin to believe these positive truths, your view of yourself and of life in general will improve!