Negative Self Talk and Our Perceptions of Self Esteem

Recently I’ve found myself getting really upset at Dove campaigns, where the presumption is that women talk down about their appearances. As though all of us, when we look in the mirror, only see ourselves for our dimpled thighs, a double chin, wrinkles around the eyes, etc.

I took issue with it because the women I’m around are bad ass, they know they’re bad ass, and they talk about themselves with the presumption that they are smart, capable, social, and generally bad ass.

“Is this real life?” I asked?

“Surely we all grew out of that as we matured through college?”

So I asked a bunch of people about it and got a whole variety of responses. The general consensus seemed to be that if you were so lucky as to begin a sport, your self image was moved from “this body is an ornament to be delicately taken care of and appraised as such” to “this body is a tool to train and shape and make incredible things happen.”

And for those that don’t find that someTHING that changes their view, I’ve been told these women (and some men) do still nitpick themselves. I was told very sad observations of beautiful people tearing themselves down in front of a mirror in changing rooms everywhere.

Then a couple weeks later I hurt my back. Not enough to stop me from training all together, but I had to pull back sharply from the more intense stuff I do for my strongman specific training. And I found a whole different form of depreciating self talk rise up out of me.

“You’ll never reach your full potential if you don’t do a better job of sucking it up.”

“The must be something else you can do to keep you moving towards your goals.”

“You need to be much stronger than you are right now. This set back is not helping.”

And I realized that while I might not nitpick my physical form reflected back at me in the mirror, I’ve only managed to shift my interactions with myself to a different subject. And I’m sure it can be argued that this is just as damaging, if not more so. I’m no longer diminishing myself on the superficial flaws of appearance. I’m diminishing myself on who I am as a person by failing to do the right things.

And then I felt like a hypocrite.

This whole experience has me thinking about the different forms in which we’re all hard on ourselves. Have I really grown as a person because I no longer nitpick my physical form? Or have I just transplanted what used to me a focus on the mirror, to unrealistic and self deflating focus on my progress as an athlete?

When one starts to say, “I do it all for the victory of sport!” we seem to step back and admire the dedication of the individual. And sport does take a lot of sacrifice. But many bad decisions are also made in the name of athletic success.

  • See: Me eating ~1000 cals a day trying to stay in my 63kg weight class for judo
  • See: Me “sucking it up” and dealing with knee pain instead of seeking information beyond my coach
  • See: Me bench pressing and competing through shoulder pain, finding out later I had bone spurs
  • See: Me cutting out nearly all carbs from my diet trying to control my weight gain

It’s not something I’m in any position to solve. What I do recognize now is that while my poor self-talk might not take the same form as someone else’s, I still participate in it. And I can empathize better from understanding that it’s probably a very human issue.