What is Negative Self-Talk
By Mark Driskill, LICSW-S
I remember watching cartoons as a child and seeing one in which a character had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Each of these was trying to influence the main character to behave in a particular way. Sometimes I remember this when I talk to clients about what we call self-talk.
Self-talk is the inner voice that provides a running monologue. Self-talk lets us know our mind is still alive…and we all experience self-talk. Self-talk is based on our conscious thoughts as well as underlying beliefs and biases. Self-talk can be positive and cheerful, it can be neutral or it can be negative and self-defeating. It’s the negative self-talk that gets us into trouble.
Have you ever walked away from a difficult interaction with another person grumbling to yourself about how unreasonable that person is, and if they would only see things your way the world would be a better place? Or do you criticize yourself unduly for that last mistake you made? These are examples of how negative self-talk takes a toll on relationships and our mental health.
One type of professional therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy can often help when this painful rumination is severe. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help us understand the relationship between thoughts, emotions and behavior.
How to Overcome Negative Self-Talk
Becoming consciously aware of our self-talk is an important step in making change. If we continually think in negative ways, rehearsing a more constructive inner voice can help. If I am able to change the critical self-talk to something more positive, I might be able to find solutions for my problems, boost my self-esteem and become a more productive person.
Overcoming critical, negative thinking can be difficult at first; it may not feel comfortable. One way to begin the shift is to try neutral thinking. Think about being kinder to yourself. Ask yourself if your thinking it realistic and balanced. If not, try telling yourself a more truthful sense of your world.
Instead of allowing the negative statement, “I’m such a failure” to dominate your thinking when something goes wrong, try to tell yourself a more realistic thought such as “I did not do as well as I wished, but I am good at other things, and I will work to improve in this area in the future.”
It Takes Work
If negative self-talk has been part of your life for a long time, it will take persistence to overcome this pattern. Over time, you can change your negative thinking to more neutral thinking and then to thoughts that are positive. But it does take conscious work. Like any new healthy habit, it means repetition, working on new ways of thinking over and over, again consciously telling yourself the truth of a situation.
Sometimes I even say a positive reality out loud just to allow myself to hear the words. I said to myself recently, “Now Mark, things are not so bad as they seem. You learned new things before; you can learn new things this time as well.” Some people choose to write out positive realities on paper so they can read them over, a different form of repetition.
Remember, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. Though life does sometimes bring challenges and difficulties, a never-ending stream of negative thoughts about yourself can become toxic quickly. Purposeful practice and self-assurance can go a long way in helping you to move forward in a more positive light.