Our inner voice or internal dialogue can be either positive or negative. If one encourages us to believe in ourselves, there’s also that voice that constantly reminds us how inadequate we are. The latter can sometimes be downright mean or rude, along with expressions of judgment, criticism, and disapproval about everything we are and everything we do.
The dialogue inside our minds or the voice inside our head that we don’t necessarily say out loud is referred to as self-talk. It can sometimes tend to shift towards negativity, causing us to magnify our mistakes or ruminate about our imperfections. If our self-talk is mostly negative, it can debilitate us and hold us back from leaping forward in life.
What is negative self-talk?
Negative self-talk is the voice inside your head that makes you feel bad about yourself and the things going on around you. It can also make you feel like crap and prevent you from making progress and reaching your full potential. If you always find ways to blame yourself or focus on your mistakes to the point that you doubt your ability to make positive changes, you are engaging in negative self-talk.
Common examples of negative self-talk include:
- (Everyone thinks) I’m an idiot.
- I can never do anything right.
- I’m such a loser.
- I will never succeed.
- I look awful/ugly.
- Nobody likes me/no one will ever love me.
This type of self-talk can occur in different areas of life such as work, academics, or relationships. What negative self-talk does is contribute to more stress or worsen feelings of depression. It can also lead to a diminished ability to see growth opportunities and take on new chances. Below are the different forms of negative self-talk.
- Personalizing – You automatically blame yourself when something bad or negative happens. If your boss or a coworker, for instance, is mad or not in a good mood, you automatically think that it is because of you or something you’ve done.
- Filtering – You filter out the positive things in your life and only focus on the negative. For example, you met all your deadlines for the day and were praised by your boss for a job well done. You, however, forget what you’ve accomplished and stress yourself out by taking on more tasks.
- Catastrophizing – You always anticipate the worst. A fast-food restaurant employee, for instance, gets your order wrong and you believe that the rest of your day will be a catastrophe. A small mistake at work also makes you think that you’ll get fired and will then become broke.
- Polarizing – You only see things as black or white, or good or bad. In this form of negative self-talk, there are no gray areas, in-between, or middle ground. One example is wanting everything to be perfect. This sets you up for further disappointment and holds you back from achieving your goals because perfection is an illusion.
How to stop negative self-talk
Stopping negative self-talk can be a challenge, especially when your state of mind is generally pessimistic. There are, however, some helpful strategies that can help turn down the volume of your inner critic.
Acknowledge your negative thoughts
Identify the aspects of your life that you commonly think bad about, whether it’s about your work or personal relationships. It is not going to be easy to admit that you’re scared, worried, or have doubts, but acknowledging (instead of ignoring) will help you confront them. Then, you can reassess your thoughts and try to apply a positive thinking twist on them.
You can be more aware of your negative self-talk by taking time to reflect on your inner voice and thoughts. Try journaling or jotting them down to improve your awareness and help identify their triggers. This can then give you more control over your thoughts.
Name your critic
Giving your inner critic a nickname can keep you from seeing yourself as the problem. What the real issue is believing in what that negative inner voice says. With a goofy name (like Negative Nancy, Debbie Downer) it can have less power and you can easily call it out the next time you have pessimistic thoughts. It will also help you see how silly some of your thoughts are and make them less threatening.
Try to shift perspectives
Whenever you’re stuck in negative thinking, ask yourself this question, “Would your closest friends or someone you care about say these things?” You can also imagine a loved one going through a similar situation. Would you tell them those negative self-talk statements you just said about yourself?
Your closest friends wouldn’t probably use condemnatory language when talking to you, so why say mean things to yourself? Self-compassion and self-acceptance are important on how to stop negative self-talk. Try to shift your perspectives and talk to yourself the way a trusted loved one would speak to you or the way you would speak to that person.
Practice positive self-talk
Think of the person you care about and then ask yourself, “What would I say to them if they’re going through a similar situation that provoked my negative thoughts?” You’ll likely tell them something a lot more affirming than what you’d say to yourself. Practice that on your own and don’t say anything that you would not say to your closest friends.
It is also helpful to give yourself a pep talk as a form of stress management or reducing anxiety. Studies suggest that talking in second-person (you) or third-person (your name) enables you to think more objectively about someone else who’s about to take on a challenging task. You could, for example, say, “You got this” or “Jane always meets deadlines” to develop a thinking process that is more beneficial for yourself.
Tap into your support system
Isolating yourself with pessimistic thoughts can only encourage more negative thinking. Talking to a trusted friend or tapping into a strong support system can help relieve stress and benefit your psychological well-being. Chat or call someone the next time you feel down, ashamed, or guilty. Don’t let those negative thoughts grow and multiply by living with them alone.
Surround yourself with positivity
Dwelling on negativity can sometimes take a toll on your physical health and mental well-being. Identify the things that can lift your mood, so you’ll know what steps to take when you’re feeling down. It could be an upbeat playlist, an inspiring movie, or taking a walk. Reaching out to that friend who always knows what to say when you’re feeling sad can also help.
Positive thinking is beneficial in building better coping skills during stress and hard times, and so does keeping positive company. Surround yourself with supportive people who you can always rely on to give affirmations, encouragement, and helpful advice. Avoid negative ones or at least try to be aware of their bad habits rubbing off on you.
Consider online therapy or talk with a mental health professional
If your negative self-talk is constant or becomes uncontrollable, seek help from a mental health professional. They will work together with you to understand your thoughts better and explore why you think this way. A therapist will also help you develop strategies to improve your self-talk patterns to continue a life with a more positive inner voice.
Online therapy lets you do this in the comfort of your own home. If you don’t want to travel or commute, you can connect with a mental health professional via chat or video call. This gives you more freedom in scheduling and attending to your appointments.
If you constantly engage in different forms of negative self-talk, it is not going to be easy to change your way of thinking. But with practice, eagerness to change, and professional help, your inner voice will eventually include more self-acceptance and less judgment.