What is negative self-talk?
Self-talk is the internal dialogue that narrates our daily experience. I often think of it as a digital voice recorder in our brain that is constantly recording and playing our thoughts. Self-talk influences our feelings and behaviors. It can also create patterns in our thinking that we call filters. These filters influence the way we see the world around us every day. If we have a lot of negative thinking, this can create filters that influence our thoughts and feelings in a way that can cause problems for us. Sometimes we don’t even realize our self-talk is negative because we have had this pattern of thinking for a long time. Self-talk cannot change reality but it can change how one perceives reality.
One filter that can change how we perceive reality is called The Emotional Reasoning Filter. With this filter emotions are not always based on reality, but since we are feeling the emotion we assume the feelings are rational. Feelings, just like our thoughts, are not always based on facts.
An example would be: A friend calls and asks you to join them for their annual backyard get together. Your internal dialogue says, “I am not likable and no one cares about me. They are just asking out of pity. They would not want me around to ruin their party.” You feel sad and lonely inside, and your behavior is to tell them, “No thanks, I cannot make it to the party.” The emotional reasoning filter was present here because you assumed your feelings of sadness and loneliness confirmed your thoughts that “I am not likable and no one cares about me” which resulted in you saying “no” to attending the party.
How can this type of thinking impact us negatively?
It is natural and healthy to have a wide range of thoughts and feelings. If you are experiencing feelings and emotions that are pulling you down, it is important to consider whether your internal dialogue could be causing this and leading to unwanted feelings and behaviors. Each person responds differently to negative self-talk. In the above example, some people may get down on themselves and isolate, others may become irritable and act out aggressively, and others may react differently altogether.
Criticizing yourself is a common example of the kind of self-talk that impacts a person negatively. In the example, one could say that this person was criticizing himself or herself, which led to isolation when presented with an opportunity to interact with others. This kind of self-talk can impact our feelings and behaviors which then impacts the relationships we have with others around us at home, work, school, etc.
10 Ways to Turn Negative Thoughts Around
- Practice Self-Interrogation. Keep a journal to see what you are telling yourself. Especially try to pinpoint the thinking that creates a problem for you. Then practice self-interrogation. In the example given, you could ask yourself, “What evidence exists that I am not a likable person and have I ever been blamed for ruining a get together with my friends just by being there?” Most likely, you will find that evidence does not exist.
- Use Thought Stopping. Thought stopping is when you catch yourself having negative or irrational thinking and in your self-talk, you tell yourself to “stop” and then replace the thoughts with positive rational thinking.
- Practice Reframing. Reframe your thinking into positive thoughts. For instance, “I am tired of this loneliness. Being around my friends is good for me. You can do this.”
- Use Self-Affirmations. Practice saying “You can do this.” Repeat three times and on the third time use an “I” statement. “You can do this, you can do this, I can do this.”
- Practice Imagery. Imagine yourself being successful in the situation and imagine the positive thinking you would be practicing. In the example given you might imagine yourself going to your friend’s gathering and having a good time. Reinforce imagining with your internal dialogue by saying, “I knew I could do this.”
- Use Deep Breathing. Slowing your breathing down will help you slow your thinking and allow you to process situations better.
- Surround Yourself with Positive People. Have fun and laugh.
- Eat a Balanced Diet. When you eat a balanced diet you feel better overall.
- Exercise. Exercising will also help you feel better and give you time to process your thinking. This could be as simple as walking around the block each day and building from there.
- Sleep Well. It is important to get enough sleep each night. A person who is lacking sleep often has a difficult time concentrating and thinking things through.
When should you be concerned about negative self-talk and what should you do about it?
When you notice your feelings and behaviors are impacting your everyday life despite your efforts to use techniques to turn negative thoughts around, and this has gone on for two weeks or more, it is important to get help from a mental health professional or doctor. It is okay to ask for help. Talk therapy with a licensed professional can be very impactful. Research shows working with a trained therapist who uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is very effective in helping individuals explore thought processes.
Resources to Help
Bryan Counseling Center
The Bryan Counseling Center has trained psychologists and therapists who can help. You can learn more about the Bryan Counseling Center here or call us at 402-481-5991.
Free, Confidential Online Screening
Bryan Mental Health Services also offers free online mental health screenings, including screenings for depression and anxiety. These are two of the most common and most treatable mental illnesses. The screening is anonymous and confidential, and a good way to determine your mental health and any steps you should take to improve this aspect of your life.
David Miers, PhD, LIPC
David Miers, PhD, LIPC, is the Counseling and Program Development Manager for mental health services at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb.
Always, remember there is help and there is hope. If you’re concerned about overcoming negative thinking, Bryan Health has the support you need. Take our free, confidential online screening now.