Ever catch yourself muttering something negative about yourself under your breath? I’ve caught myself doing it a lot and it’s something I’ve been to working to stop doing. It usually happens when I make a mistake — I’ll say something like “that was really dumb of me.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that when I said things like that, I started making more mistakes because I was essentially convincing myself that I was dumb.

Your words really do have power. Whether their spoken about you or someone else present, positive or negative. A sincere compliment can brighten a person’s day while a snide remark can upset them, throw them off balance and cause their minds to focus on it over and over again. Again, our words have impact.

We can be our own worst enemies:

Two things that I stopped doing are talking negatively to myself internally and talking negatively about myself to others. I do both a lot and I’ll explain why. I tend to be very hard on myself and take my own mistakes and failures very seriously. This often results in me muttering things (yes, I sometimes talk to myself out loud) such as “how could you be so dumb?” or “why do you do such idiotic things?” If I were a parent talking to a child in this manner, one would probably consider me a bad father.

I caught myself saying bad things about myself to others in three basic situations. First, to get a laugh (sometimes a sympathy laugh) because I really enjoy making others smile. Second, to diffuse a situation where my relationship with the other person isn’t very good, I’ll say things about me that they’re probably thinking but are too polite to actually say. And in the last case, I’ll sometimes use self-deprecating humor sarcastically as tactic during a heated debate.

Looking for a laugh:

It’s nice to get people to laugh at our faults when it’s done in a non-serious way. It can even be healthy. But many people take it too far where they’re always knocking themselves. Or they’re looking for sympathy such as someone saying back “no, you’re not a bad person. You’re a good person.” When you constantly say bad things about yourself out loud, others begin to believe them. But even worse, you start to subconsciously believe them.

It’s like you’re doing the opposite of a daily affirmation. Instead of telling yourself something positive, you’re programming your brain with negative thoughts about yourself. So guess what? You suddenly find yourself being the idiot that you joke about being.

Diffusing a situation:

Self-deprecation can sometimes be used to diffuse a tense discussion, especially if it’s turning into a debate. Debates are simply competitions of words with both sides vying to defeat the other side. A helpful tactic during an argument is to say something negative about yourself once the other person is all fired up because they’ll still be in that mode where they’re disagreeing with you. Surprisingly, this one way that you can get them to actually start saying positive things about you.

Many years ago, I had a boss who I’d frequently use this tactic on — before he could chastise me for something he disliked or a mistake I made, I’d beat him to the punch being harsher on me than he would. Then I’d sit back and watch him defend my actions.

Even if you know that you’re just saying something without truly meaning it, your words still have an effect on your subconscious. So make sure when you do this, that you criticize the behavior or the mistake and not yourself. So “that was an irresponsible way to handle the situation” is better than “I was irresponsible.”

As an attack:

I was once accused by someone I did business with of not pulling the correct version of a form off of a web site. I grabbed the form, filled it out immediately, sent it off to this person. Then a week later, when she finally got around to looking at it, she got mad at me for not grabbing the latest version of the form and said I caused her to have to waste her time importing the data from the old form to the new one. I politely explained that I grabbed the latest version but she snidely responded with “you obviously didn’t!” My reply back to her was “then I must be a complete idiot since the web site only keeps one version of the form” to which she said nothing. I walked away and found that the form had been updated between the time I sent it to her and she looked at it so I forwarded the info in an email to her, but apologized for not checking to see if a new version of the form would be coming out. She then apologized to me and took the blame for the whole situation.

While my sarcasm made me feel better and ended the heated conversation, it’s not necessarily the best tactic. My apology for something that obviously wasn’t my fault was much more effective and accomplished my goal. Again, it’s tempting to lash out but it’s not always the best approach.

In part two of this series, I’ll talk about the impact of your words when speaking to groups.

Your Words Have Power
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