Is Negative Self-Talk Derailing Your Life?
You said something stupid in a meeting, and everyone glared at you. That was two hours ago, and you’re stuck in a cycle of spewing self-hatred at the person who’s supposed to be the most important to you. Next thing you know, you‘re catastrophizing. You decide not to speak up in meetings. Everything you say is stupid, and no one wants to hear it.
If you spend more time telling yourself how stupid, hopeless, and unworthy you are instead of building yourself up as a best friend should, you may be letting negative self-talk derail your life. Most people have occasional negative thoughts or feelings about themselves. Still, when those thoughts get out of control or start affecting how you show up in your personal or professional life, it’s time to do something to stop the negative thinking.
This blog will explain why self-criticism is harmful. Then we’ll give you tools and strategies to stop negative thought patterns and replace them with positive self-talk.
Effects of Negative Self-Talk
Negative self-talk is a spiral of thinking triggered by negative emotions. Cognitive distortions lead you to develop an inaccurate view of reality. These negativity spirals can affect your mental health.
When your mind spends inordinate amounts of time criticizing how you look, speak, or act, your self-esteem can plummet, and you may experience anxiety or even depression symptoms. Types of negative self-talk to watch out for include:
- Personalizing is blaming yourself when something terrible occurs. If you personalize, you may think your spouse’s foul mood is always because of you when they may just be having a tough day.
- Filtering involves focusing only on the negative and ignoring the good things about your life. For example, you failed your exam, so none of the A+ papers you wrote matter. You’re a total failure.
- Catastrophizing is automatically assuming the worst is going to happen. For example, if you get stuck in traffic and are late to work and start thinking, you will automatically lose your job.
- Polarizing is seeing things as either good or bad. For example, you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthy all week but indulge in a dessert over the weekend. None of your efforts matter.
Negative self-talk can cause you to give up on yourself, stop striving to reach your goals, and increase your stress levels. This can be disastrous for your health. High stress and anxiety levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and unhealthy behaviors. The good news is you can learn to turn your negative inner dialogue into positive.
How to Handle Negative Self-Talk
The key to stopping negative self-talk is to start small, as with any change in habits. You can’t expect a brain that’s lived in a swirl of negativity to suddenly start putting a positive spin on all your inner dialogue. Rather, start by trying to recognize the negative self-talk when it happens. Observe it as you would a friend struggling with difficult emotions – identify what is happening in your body and how the thoughts enter your mind without judgment.
Once you recognize when negative self-talk takes over, you’re ready to start trying a few strategies to stop the negative inner voice and move toward positive thinking. Here are a few methods to try when you feel prepared for that step.
Remember Your Thoughts Aren’t Always Reality
Our perception of events is colored by our previous experiences and the lens we use in the present. Often we will catastrophize an event or feel like everyone is mad at us because we lack self-confidence or have some anxiety. Simply repeating the refrain, “my thoughts aren’t reality,” may help. For some people asking themselves these questions can help stop the negativity and pull them out of their heads and back into their lives.
- Is there any evidence to support the thoughts I’m having?
- Are my thoughts factual or just my interpretation?
- What facts exist to disprove my thoughts?
Feelings Are Temporary Signals – You Don’t Have To Live There
Feelings are biologically required to keep humans out of danger. When you feel fear before approaching your boss about a promotion, your brain doesn’t have a way of figuring out that a T-rex isn’t chasing you – biologically, your body is wired to panic and get you out of there. Often we fight these feelings and refuse to acknowledge them because they’re uncomfortable. The reality is that feelings are temporary signals designed to get your body to act. They will dissipate relatively quickly if we name them and allow our bodies to feel them. Remind yourself you don’t have to live in the feeling – move through it and move on with life.
Give Your Inner Critic a Name
Your inner critic is the little voice that tells you you you’re a failure, everyone is mad at you, and you’ll never finish that novel. Your inner critic is a jerk. They’re also wrong most of the time. Naming your inner critic can give you a way to quiet them down and tell them precisely what you’d like them to do.
Let’s say you name your inner critic Sven. Next time Sven tries to tell you that everyone in the meeting hates your ideas, you can think, “Stop it, Sven, you weren’t invited to the meeting.” Better yet, you can let Sven know they aren’t invited before the meeting starts.
Cross Examine Your Inner Critic
Asking your inner voice questions about the negativity they spew at you can shut them up quickly. Often the negative thought patterns are not anchored in reality, and as such, they don’t stand up to cross-examination.
In the event you forget to uninvite Sven to the meeting, or they show up uninvited and catch them in the act. Then, throw some questions at your inner critic until they sit down and shut up. Some questions to ask:
- Is there any evidence that proves what you’re saying?
- Did anyone actually say they hate my ideas?
- What is actually true in this situation?
- Remember when I had that really great idea that brought in tons of revenue? How does that fit into the narrative that all my ideas stink?
Say It Aloud and Stop the Thought
This strategy works incredibly well if you say it into a mirror. Most of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves we’d never say to our closest friends or our precious children. Yet, we often spew hateful things at the person we’re supposed to love most. Try expressing the negative thoughts you have and then saying the word “stop.” Once you can successfully stop the negative thoughts from swirling in your brain, you’re ready to replace them.
Replace the Bad With Good
While retraining your brain to practice self-compassion instead of self-hate, you’ll inevitably have some moments where negativity takes hold. Learning not just to stop the negativity but replace it with positive thoughts is key to improving your inner dialogue. Next time you catch your brain throwing negativity your way, try writing down the negative thought, then cross it off and replace it with a positive one. Here are a few examples:
I can’t believe how big my stomach’s gotten. I’m so gross.
I have incredible curves, and my skin is so soft. I’m beautiful.
There’s no way I’ll get that promotion. They’ll probably fire me instead.
I work hard, and I deserve that promotion. I landed a huge account this quarter, and my earnings are up.
Those new positive statements become affirmations you can repeat to yourself every day until your brain gets used to loving you instead of throwing shade.
A Therapist Can Help You Get Rid of Negative Self-Talk
Sometimes we’ve spent so much time speaking negatively about ourselves that learning to stop self-criticism requires us to get professional help. A therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy can help you identify triggers for negative self-talk and guide you through developing strategies to overcome it. You don’t have to let negativity derail your life and keep you from your goals.
Reach out to our office today to start working with a therapist who is as invested in your wellbeing as you are. Let us help you silence your inner critic and learn to prioritize positive thinking as a vital part of self-care.