You may not realize it, but you probably talk to yourself much more than you talk to anybody else. This is true for people who are very social as well as those who aren’t. Most of this self-talk probably goes unnoticed; it’s a silent narrative happening in your head. Maybe you’ve noticed that this self-talk isn’t positive or constructive, or maybe a friend or therapist has pointed it out to you. But working to stop negative self-talk takes time. It’s also helpful to have tools. Here are a few strategies that you can use to stop negative self-talk.
What is Negative Self-Talk?
Negative self-talk is a narrative that we tell ourselves, usually silently, in our own heads, that is overly critical, pessimistic, or even abusive. When the way that we feel, think, and talk about ourselves is pointing out flaws and problems more than strengths, our self-talk is probably negative.
Throughout the day, consider your internal monologue; how you “talk to” or think about yourself. Maybe this seems more like feelings or images than words. How often do you feel proud of yourself? How often do you feel confident? Or, how often do you feel guilty or unsure? As you notice these feelings, try to notice the thoughts that accompany them. For example, when you complete a task, or when you forgo or forget a task, how do you feel? What thoughts accompany this feeling?
Examples of Negative Self-Talk
Negative self-talk might be easiest to understand as an example.
Maybe you made a mistake or made a bad choice. An example of negative self-talk might include something like “why did I do that? I’m so stupid.” Or maybe you’re going out with a few friends, and you’re feeling insecure about your appearance. You might have the thought, “all of my friends are more attractive than me. Why do I even try?” Or, in some cases, negative self-talk can appear even when we do everything right. Maybe you completed a project, and it turned out exactly as you wanted, but you still have a thought like, “That actually went well. I can’t believe I didn’t screw it up.”
We all have bad days and our internal monologue sometimes becomes overly critical. But, if you find your thoughts often drifting to statements that are doubtful, pessimistic, or even cruel about yourself, these tools to stop negative self-talk might be helpful.
Can I Stop Negative Self-Talk?
Keep in mind that these strategies will take time; negative self-talk won’t disappear overnight. However, all of the time you spend combating negative self-talk is time you’re investing in your mental and emotional wellness. This is time well-spent, even if it isn’t perfect. When your self-talk is kinder, you’ll feel better about yourself, and you’re more likely to treat others with more kindness and respect as well.
6 Ways to Stop Negative Self-Talk
1. Notice and Reframe
One of the first and best ways to stop negative self-talk is to recognize it when it happens. This means recognizing the content of your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. If this sounds exhausting, don’t worry; you don’t need to do it all the time. But taking time to check in with your thoughts and feelings can help you notice when your self-talk turns negative. This can also help you turn down the volume on your inner critic, and build up a more supportive voice.
You might check in with yourself at the following times:
- After you complete a task or a project, regardless of how it went.
- After talking to a friend or family members, especially if such conversations tend to be emotionally complicated.
- If you’re feeling guilty or regretful; why? How do you think about yourself or “talk to” yourself when you feel this way?
- After engaging in something that makes you feel nervous, such as a difficult activity, social setting, or a particular situation.
2. Be Your Own Friend
As you notice your thoughts, you might recognize statements like the previously mentioned examples of negative self-talk, like “why am I so stupid?” or “I can’t do anything right.” Ask yourself, would you talk to a friend like this? The answer, most likely, is no. So, why are you talking to yourself like that?
To combat negative self-talk, it’s important to first know that you don’t deserve to be treated that way, by your own inner critic or anyone else. You deserve kindness. Once you’ve recognized when negative self-talk occurs, also recognize that you deserve better. When you catch a negative, critical thought, replace it or add a statement that you might make to a friend. If you heard a friend say about themselves “I can’t do anything right,” what would you say to them in return?
3. Be Rational
Most self-talk isn’t rational. It’s not simply based on the way things are or the events that happened. Usually, negative self-talk is based in guilt; you might wish that you did something differently, you regret making a mistake, or you feel inadequate somehow. To stop negative self-talk, approach your inner critic with rationality.
Maybe you didn’t get the result you wanted on an important test. You have the thought, “I can’t learn this material. I’m just not smart enough.” But is this true? Look at just the facts; you got low marks on one test. Maybe the test was inordinately difficult, or maybe you weren’t prepared. This isn’t an accurate assessment of your overall intelligence, or even your understanding of the subject itself.
4. Add Something Good
Completely stopping negative self-talk is a big challenge. Afterall, if someone asks you not to think about something, what’s the first thing you’ll inevitably think about? However, simply adding a few positive statements can be enough.
Think of your overall inner monologue like a recipe, and your negative self-talk is an ingredient that you don’t like. What can you add to make it better? Write down a few things about yourself that you like, that you’re proud of, that you’re good at, or that are unique to you. When you have a negative thought, sprinkle these positive affirmations on top, and focus on them.
5. Be Compassionate
Compassionate people express sympathy, concern and understanding for others, especially in difficult times. Do you think this is a good feature to have? Do you think this is also a good thing to express towards yourself?
We all want to do better and be better, and compassion can sometimes disappear as we judge ourselves, and feel guilt for not meeting our own, or others’, expectations. While it’s important to recognize how you can grow, improve or make more constructive decisions, guilt and judgement aren’t necessarily good tools to get you there. Instead, show yourself a little compassion.
Try the following statements when you feel negative self-talk creeping in:
- “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all anybody can do.”
- “I know how to do better next time, and that’s the most important thing.”
- “I don’t have to be perfect to be good and valuable.”
- “This situation was really hard, and I got through it.”
6. Create a Character
Negative self-talk can be particularly difficult to work through because it’s hard to stop believing it. Our negative self-talk feels like a part of ourselves. However, our inner narrative is simply a series of assessments; they are not necessarily true or accurate. One of the ways to stop negative self-talk is to make this critical voice seem less truthful or accurate, and to separate it from ourselves.
One way of creating this distance between yourself and your negative self-talk is to turn this mean voice into a character. Maybe your negative self-talk is like a snarky talk-show host, making mean comments to get a laugh. Or maybe it’s like a super villain, trying to cut down the hero of the story. Or maybe it’s a grouchy cartoon character that actually just needs some kindness and understanding. Turn your negative self-talk into a character that makes sense for you, and you can start to distance yourself from it.
Remember, combating negative self-talk takes time. Some days will be better than others. But every time you show yourself a bit of compassion and positivity, you’re giving yourself a much-needed break and a helpful boost.