January 29, 2020

Can negative self-talk really harm your health?

Philippa Johnston

Reclaimed wood, metal and other found material.On the Scrap Heap, 2016

On the Scrap Heap was made for a group exhibition entitled Sticks and Stones. It came out of a dark period for me work-wise when my years of experience seemed to count for nothing. I was thinking of the children’s rhyme ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ and how words can harm us, especially the hurtful ones we turn on ourselves. Like other forms of self-harm, negative self-talk is hidden, a source of shame, and often goes unnoticed, and so those mean words – loser, useless, pathetic, waste of space – stamped onto the slivers of wood are hard to make out. This piece was made some years ago but seems timely. We are all very aware of the power of social media to harm with words but the medical world is increasingly recognising the harm we can do to ourselves with hurtful words, linking this with higher levels of stress and depression. I’ve discovered that there are strategies out there to help. Just acknowledging that your default in difficult situations is to have a go at yourself verbally is a good place to start. How about taking that first step?