Self-talk is the stream of thoughts and dialogue in your mind. It may take on several roles such as your inner critic, inner cheerleader, inner child, or inner adult. Self-talk is something everyone experiences regularly. It’s often linked to past experiences, core beliefs, and distorted cognitive processes. Self-talk can be driven by negative thoughts and feelings and can have a deep impact on self-esteem and perception of the world. Negative self-talk can largely impact self-esteem and maladaptive behaviors, which can fuel challenges like addiction and mental health issues.
Examples of Negative Self-Talk
There are some common patterns that people have around negative thinking and negative self-talk. Types of negative self-talk include:
You blame yourself for anything bad that happens with no evidence. You seem to always be beating yourself up. For example, a friend or coworker is in a bad mood and you immediately think it’s because you’ve done something to make them mad. Negative self-talk that personalizes a situation might be something like, “I’ve messed up again and now my friend is mad at me and I’ve caused their bad mood.”
Your mind always turns to the worst-case scenario. For example, you make a small mistake on a work report and automatically expect that you’ll be fired, won’t be able to pay your rent, and end up out on the street. Negative self-talk that catastrophizes could be the voice in your head saying, “I can’t do anything right and now I’ll be homeless and destitute because of it.”
You only focus on the negative and filter out any positive in your life. For example, you had a great day, where most things went right, but then the deli got your order wrong, and you stew about that instead of focusing on all the good things about your day. An example of negative self-talk around filtering is telling yourself, “Nothing good ever happens to me. Life is unfair and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Changing Negative Self Talk
You can overcome negative thinking and stop negative self-talk with attention to your patterns and hard work to change them. Here are seven ways to help you change negative self-talk:
1. Become Aware of Negative Self-Talk
Becoming aware of negative thinking patterns and their impact on mood and behavior is the first step. Here are two examples to start doing that:
- Timeout to reflect – Take a time out to reflect on your thoughts and inner voice. Stop and say to yourself “What’s the thought? What is driving it? How am I feeling?”
- Journaling – Either free-form journaling or a thought journal can help. Basically, any technique to get your thoughts down on paper can improve your awareness of negative thinking and help you become more in tune with yourself.
2. Challenge Negative Self-Talk
As you get better at recognizing negative thinking patterns, you can begin to dive deeper and develop new patterns of thinking. Many times, negative thoughts are connected to irrational beliefs. Catch yourself and challenge these thoughts. Using concrete, positive affirmation is a great place to start. Instead of “I am never going to get this right,” challenge the thought with “I am doing my best, and my best is enough.” Retraining your mind and shifting your lens takes time and practice.
3. Practice Positive Self-Talk
There are many ways to practice positive self-talk. One way is to focus on your blessings. When negative self-talk begins, try shifting your attention to the positive in your life, no matter how small it is. This is a simple yet powerful way to break the cycle of negativity. Whether it’s setting aside a minute or two before bed to reflect on the day, identifying five things that we are thankful for, or keeping a gratitude journal, practicing gratitude is not only a coping skill but an overall mindset.
4. Step Outside of Yourself
Sometimes when you’re stuck in a negative thought cycle, it can be helpful to shift perspectives. Try asking yourself, “What would my best friend say?” or “Would I talk to my best friend like this?” Developing self-talk that has a foundation of self-love and compassion is powerful and can really combat the cycle of negativity. Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a loved one, taking a stance of empathy and encouragement.
5. Talk It Out
There are times when you need to lean on your support systems to get out of your head and challenge negativity. Talking to someone in your network, a loved one or a therapist, can help you sort out what’s reality and what’s just your negative thinking about yourself and the world.
6. Put It on the Shelf
At times, negative thoughts may feel so overwhelming that the best thing to do is take a break and step away. Visualize taking the negative thought or irrational belief and putting it on a shelf, or in a box — whatever works for you. This can help give you a moment of clarity. When the hamster wheel of negative thinking is spinning and you feel you can’t challenge those thoughts at the moment, put them on the shelf. Revisit them at a time that better serves you. Maybe later that night when you’re writing in your journal, or maybe later that week when you are at a support group or with your therapist. Visualization is an effective skill to manage thinking and increase a sense of control over thoughts.
7. Focus on the Present Moment
Mindfulness is a tool that may not only combat negative thinking, but provides a sense of relief, giving you the ability to stop and refocus. Wherever your mind wanders, you have the power to bring it back to this moment and focus on the hope within the present. Breathing exercises, grounding, and meditation are all ways to focus on the now and break free from the grip of negative thoughts.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) For Negative Self-Talk
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a research-backed approach that helps you identify negative thoughts and how these relate to your behaviors and self-esteem. It teaches you how to challenge negative thinking and beliefs about yourself and replace them with more positive ones.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown effective in helping reduce negative self-talk tied to unhealthy coping skills like substance abuse.
When negative self-talk is fueling addiction and other destructive behaviors, it’s time to seek help. Footprints to Recovery offers several evidence-based approaches like CBT to help you pinpoint the underlying issues that are contributing to substance abuse and learn healthier ways to cope with challenges.
Contact us today if you’re struggling.