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5 Minutes Read

3 Ways To Deal With Negative Self-Talk

“You’re not good enough”. “You never do anything right”. “Of course they didn’t respond - you don’t have anything interesting to say”. These statements are a small sample of some of the negative thoughts we direct toward ourselves every day. 

The inner dialogue we have with ourselves is called self-talk. Depending on the way we engage in self talk, it can help increase our confidence and motivation, soothe difficult or painful emotions, or reflect on complex problems and questions.

However, if we overemphasize self-talk that is disparaging, harsh, or disproportionately critical to the given context, this negative self-talk can contribute to toxic shame, self-isolation, and depression.

Here are some strategies to shake negative self-talk loose from your mind.

1. Pause the thoughts

Let’s say you’ve made a pretty big mistake at work. Your team is going to support you in addressing what went wrong and getting back on track, but you’re being really hard on yourself - calling yourself an idiot, and telling yourself you won’t be able to recover from this mistake because it’s beyond fixing.

Don’t let that train of thought loop around your head. There are a few ways you can pause the thoughts so they don’t interfere with the tasks you have ahead of you.

Practice stopping negative thoughts in their tracks - picture the thoughts halting at a giant red stop sign or imagine yourself hitting a metaphysical pause button and all the thoughts immediately going silent.

Grounding yourself in your physical environment can help you step away from the self-talk in your head. Take slow, deep breaths and really focus on the way the air feels going in and out of your body. Scan your surroundings with intentionality, taking notice of three things you see, three sounds you hear, and three sensations or textures you feel. 

Shelve your negative thoughts temporarily, and make a deal with yourself that you are going to grapple with what your self-talk is trying to tell you later. Although this is not a permanent solution, if your negative self-talk is preventing you from taking action in the moment it can buy you some needed time.

2. Distance the thoughts

Social anxiety can really get in the way of dating and starting relationships. It seems like whenever you go out with someone for the first time, you can’t even enjoy the date because you’re so busy thinking about how awkward you’re being, how you’re probably not saying anything interesting or funny, and how no one would really want to date you long-term. 

You might not be able to beat these thoughts once and for all on a random Saturday night, but getting some distance from them may help you stay more in the experience and have a good time.

Get outside of your negative self-talk by reminding yourself that they’re not facts, they’re thoughts. It’s not a fact that you’re being awkward right now; it’s a subjective thought you are having about yourself. Rewording your self-talk to “I’m having the thought that I’m acting awkward right now” will help you feel less distressed than when you say to yourself “I’m being so awkward right now”.

Imagine that your negative self-talk doesn’t come from you, but an annoying creature that lives in your mind. I’m a big fan of giving the creature a cheezy name, like Manny the Mosquito or Laura the Leech. This helps your negative thoughts seem less urgent and personal. Your overly critical assessments about yourself feel so true and real, whereas it’s much easier to roll your eyes at that dumb mosquito who’s telling you about how boring and unfunny you supposedly are once again.

Consider whether a friend would talk to you the same way you’re talking about yourself. Would a friend say that no one’s interested in dating you? I bet not, because they know about your good qualities. If a friend wouldn’t speak to you that way, why are you speaking that way to yourself?

3. Challenge the thoughts

Imagine you’re studying for the GREs and despite the grueling hours you’re putting into flashcards and practice tests, you find yourself bogged down with self-criticism and feelings of failure. You’re sure that this whole endeavor is pointless — after all, you’ve never been that smart, you bombed the LSAT last year when you were thinking about going to law school, and you’re full of yourself to think you deserve an exciting career.

Challenge these thoughts by tackling them head on — change their meaning so that they are no longer so harmful to you.

Unpack the meaning behind your negative self-talk, so you can let go of the distorted thoughts or unfair assessments that are causing you to be so critical of yourself. Taking the time to reflect on why you don’t think of yourself as smart allows you to acknowledge that you and your brother are always compared with each other, and because he’s labeled “the smart one” you’ve become insecure about your own intelligence.

Taking out the intense emotional content of your negative self-talk might reveal that some of your thoughts are factual, but worded harshly. Instead of kicking yourself for bombing the LSAT, take a more neutral view of that statement — you tried taking the LSAT, but did not get a high score. Transforming your self-talk to neutral instead of negative will help you think about the situation more logically — just because you didn’t do well on one test does not mean you’re not going to do well on another set of exams (which are on subjects you know a lot more about).

If your negative self-talk is pushing you in one direction of thinking of yourself, it might help to intentionally point your thoughts in the exact opposite direction. When you start thinking about how you don’t deserve to follow your career dreams, remind yourself that you DO deserve to feel fulfilled, it’s OK to have plans and goals, and the steps that you are taking to achieve them are positive.

When to get help

Sometimes breaking the habits of negative self talk is just too challenging to tackle on your own. This may be especially true if you have a history of anxiety, depression, or trauma, or if your style of negative self-talk is consistent with symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Change is possible — I can teach you how to change your inner dialogue for the better. Click the button below to set up a free initial phone consultation and discuss starting therapy with me. Let’s see how life shifts for you when you open yourself up to new ways of thinking.


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