Negative Self-Talk

Published Categorized as coping strategies, distorted thinking, resilience, self esteem

We nearly all do it and often without really realising: negative self-talk. As an adult this talk tends to be in our heads, but children might say those thoughts out loud. e.g. ‘I hate myself’.

We are most likely to notice our negative self-talk when shame is triggered e.g. after we’ve made a mistake, when we’ve been humiliated, when we didn’t manage to avoid a ‘disaster’ that could have been avoided or we didn’t achieve or do something to our expected standards. It really is a version of kicking ourselves (when we’re already down).

The thoughts we hold about ourselves will impact on our self-esteem which also impacts on how we feel and thrive – or not. And low self-esteem will make negative self-talk more likely. It’s a vicious circle!

So what can we do about negative self-talk? Well there are several reactive and proactive things we can do:

  1. Bring these thoughts into awareness. That way it’s easier to challenge them. This might sound simple but we can have negative self-talk that affects us but that is not overly conscious. It can become a background ‘white-noise’ in effect – but one we do hear.
  2. Some people find it helpful to name the voice (especially if you give it a funny name). e.g. Oh there you are Maude, giving me a hard time.
  3. Be aware of the brain’s tendency to focus much more on negative things than positive things (the negativity bias). Negative things can seem so much more of a big deal than positive things. This negativity bias evolved to keep us safe (It’s important to notice the bad and dangerous things for survival!) However, it can sometimes help to know it’s just a tendency of the brain giving us a hard time and not the balanced and more rational truth!
  4. The problems arise when we start believing this voice. Look for evidence to the contrary! E.g. I am  not stupid. I just made a mistake. Most of the time I do just fine!
  5. Find someone you trust to talk to about your voice and what it ‘beats you up’ for. This can help it have far less volume – especially if the person listening to you shows absolute acceptance and empathy for what you disclose.
  6. If the voice is really loud when you ‘mess up’, keep some perspective about any mistakes you make. Every single one of us makes mistakes and all mistakes can be forgiven. Most people won’t have noticed your mistake or have thought about it as much as you did. You’ve made a mistake, you learnt from it, now it’s time to move on and not torture yourself any more with unhelpful thinking.
  7. Aim to accept yourself as ‘good enough’. This might sound a little underwhelming but there’s a reason for this. Aiming for perfect or completely brilliant will lead you to giving yourself a perpetual hard time! It is grand to be ‘good enough’ – most of us are, nearly all of the time. When the negative self-talk starts, say to yourself, ‘I am good enough’. For someone with negative self-talk it can be easier to believe than more positive and upbeat statements.
  8. Replace the voice in your head with a friend’s voice. What would your friend say? They certainly would not be as hard on you as you’re being!
  9. Reframe what your voice says. Don’t catastrophise and accuse yourself of being terrible. Don’t think about what you did as the worst thing ever! See what you do as separate from the simple truth that you are ‘good enough’ and the unique person you just are! E.g. Instead of I am useless, replace it with, I could probably have done better. Try hard not to make your self-worth reliant on what you have done or not done.
  10. Judge yourself more softly. The negative self-talk is full of judgement of the shoulds and should not type. Often people who have loud negative self-talk are anxious and place very high standards upon themselves. They can often be perfectionists. Doing the best that you can is not the same as perfectionism and is a far better aim. In the vast majority of cases, good enough is actually more than good enough!
  11. In any situation, that triggered the negative self-talk, try and give yourself a compliment – even if it’s ‘I survived!’ If you take the time to do so, you might be able to see some ways in which your strengths shined through in a testing experience. For example:
  • I didn’t give up.
  • I managed to calm myself down after my initial panic.
  • I have learnt something from that and I won’t forget it now.
  • I coped well in the end.
  • I have good friends who are ready to help me.
  • I sorted everything out well in the end by being determined.
  • I managed to not let this get the better of me!

So, acquaint yourself with that voice and be sure to tell it where to go!