Identifying Negative Self Talk

And exploring the underlying self-judgements that produce it and how to stop it from spiraling

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Many of us speak to ourselves in demeaning and hurtful ways, using language we would never use with anyone else. Phrases like, “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m so stupid, I can’t believe I didn’t know that.” “I’m too emotional.” “I’ll never be able to afford that.” “Nothing looks right on me.” All of these are examples of negative self-talk. Negative self-talk can be defined as any language you use when you communicate with yourself that is unkind, unhelpful, or untrue. It’s when you speak to yourself in a way that diminishes your very being. This can be in ways that are big and obvious (like when you judge and berate your body), or little and hard to spot (like when you subtly compare yourself to someone else and decide you aren’t “enough”). It is language that promotes suffering. It occurs when you talk to yourself in thought, word, or action in a way that leaves you feeling sad, upset, or mad at yourself. All day long, we’re in constant dialogue with one person-ourselves. This means that the words we choose have an incredibly powerful effect on how we see the world and ourselves. When this self-talk becomes negative, so do our perceptions of who we are and our place in the world.

Negative self-talk is always coupled with a critical judgment that you’ve made about yourself and the world. An event occurs and that’s a fact, but then the mind makes a judgement about that event, in which it declares the event as good or bad, wanted or unwanted, loved or feared. We attach meaning. When the judgment of an event is negative and that event is related to our sense of self, we have now laid the groundwork for the negative self-talk that inevitably follows. The way in which our mind judges and interprets events is the result of things such as our upbringing, past experiences, societal influences, and basic personality. 

There are seven common expressions that include built-in judgment, these result in the most typical ways we speak negatively to ourselves, or in a manner that is untrue, unhelpful, and unkind. Becoming aware of these expressions you can more quickly identify when your language is coming from judgement and negative self-talk. 

  • Overreation: “Everything is terrible!’
  • Personalization: “Why is this happening to me?!”
  • Absolute Language: “I am a bad person.”
  • Assumption: “He thinks I’m not good enough.”
  • Expectation: “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!”
  • Comparison: “Why can’t I be like her.”
  • Regret: “If I hadn’t done that …”

Being able to spot your negative self-talk is the first step to moving away from it. Try observing how you talk to yourself for one day. Write down the phrases you hear that aren’t nice that have you feeling bad about yourself, your family, friends, work, body, and romantic relationship. Then think about where this talk is coming from. Maybe it’s an old wound or a societal influence, or the belief that there is only a limited amount of what you desire so you need to get it before someone else does. Then it’s time to ask yourself three questions about the negative self talk: What judgment am I making? What story am I telling myself as a result of this judgment? And what do I know to be true? The line of questioning will help you detach even further from the self-talk so that then you can see it for what it is – a story you’ve created, one that isn’t based in truth. Then it’s time to release old judgments and practice replacing your old self-communication habits with new ones by asking is what I am about to say to myself true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?

If you’re constantly using language that assumes the worst of yourself, or that rattles off all the things you’ve done wrong–your entire world will be affected. While you want to feel free, open, calm and relaxed instead you become stuck in a cycle of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and fear. The good news is you can use your negative self-talk as your cue to start speaking differently. And when you change how you communicate with yourself, you’ll soon see how the rest of your world will begin to change, too.

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