Negative self-talk is extremely common amongst adolescent girls, and results in a lot of anxiety, insecurity, self-doubt, and potentially limits their courage and ability to lead. In this blog I want to help you understand why girls experience this and ways they can learn to redirect their stinking thinking.
The female brain is wired to ruminate, i.e. chew on thoughts, overthink, and overanalyze. When girls are feeling, the emotional centers in their brain light up, and then two other parts of the brain activate. One is the verbal circuits, resulting in many females wanting to work through their emotions verbally. The second part of the brain that activates is the part of the prefrontal cortex that processes through issues. Unfortunately, this results in girls ruminating worst case scenarios that cause tons of anxiety and stress. Another source of undesirable self-talk is all of the pressures on girls today: perfectionism, lookism, early and intense hypersexualization, and being judged 24/7 on social media. It is impossible to measure up to all of the unrealistic standards set by parents, the education system, media, social media, and the culture. Add in stereotyping and biases and it’s no wonder girls get overwhelmed.
I teach girls to become more aware of when they are traveling down the ruminating road. At first, they may not catch themselves until they are pretty worked up, but slowly but surely they will learn to catch the ruminating earlier and earlier. They can then use one of the tools in their toolbox to redirect their thinking. One means is to bring themselves out of the future and back to the present moment. They can do this by using one of many mindfulness tools like focused breath work or focusing on one sense at a time. It helps to learn to just notice any harmful thoughts that pop up in their heads without giving them any time or energy and to not believe them. Girls can also learn to practice self-compassion and to repeat positive mantras to reframe negative thoughts.
Cindy Sherman, the first woman to break one million dollars in a photography sale, had to break out of her own self-imposed bias about artists in order to thrive as one. When she was in high school, she saw an article in Life Magazine that showed Lynda Benglis as a young artist throwing paint on her floor. It was the first time it dawned on Cindy that a woman could be an artist. As a shy introvert, she worried that she didn’t have the ability to express herself and her views. But that changed when she realized that the issues that pissed her off would show up in her work. “I definitely have always used my work as a forum to address a lot of things that I can’t say, that I can’t articulate.” Cindy redirected her limiting thinking and found her voice.
Another cause of negative self-talk comes from harmful decisions girls make about themselves as a result of challenging experiences they’ve faced. For example, girls who have been excluded from their friend group might decide that they are not good enough, cool enough, weird, or annoying. Those thoughts usually become beliefs that affect girl’s self-confidence and behaviors. I teach girls that they aren’t always in control over what happens to them, but they are in charge of what they make of it. Nicole Hanton had a mentor who helped her redecide her thoughts and decisions. She grew up with an alcoholic mother who sent her to live with her drug addicted father who subsequently molested her. Nicole moved back in with her mom and spent her teen years taking care of a younger brother. Her saving grace was Lorrie, the mother of her best friend, who became the supportive adult that she craved. Nicole discovered Lorrie had grown up with abusive parents, yet had survived and thrived. One day Lorrie gave Nicole advice that changed her life. She told Nicole that life is like a train, and you are riding down a certain set of tracks. But the incredible thing is that even though your childhood has taken you one way, you have the ability to jump that set of tracks and create and follow your own. Nicole did just that, and today she works at a rape crisis center where she shares her mentor Lorrie’s advice to others. Every girl needs to learn that she is in charge of what her past experiences mean about her and her life, and that she is always in charge of her story.
Girls don’t have to be at the mercy of their negative self-talk or their rumination. They can use the above ideas and skills to redecide any thoughts that may limit their futures and their ability to put themselves out there and lead.
For more information on guiding your daughter to become a strong leader, check out Dr. Jordan’s new book, She Leads: A Practical Guide for Raising Girls Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead