How To Stop Negative Self-Talk – Cleveland Clinic

Some days we can be our own worst critics. It’s like there’s a constant commentator in your head, picky about every single thing you do.

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The truth is, negative self-talk happens to the best of us. But it becomes hard to shake off when you surround yourself with it consistently — and it can start taking a toll on your sanity and your relationships.

Psychologist Lauren Alexander, PhD explains what negative self-talk is and how to stop it.

What is negative self-talk?

You may be wondering how negative self-talk works. Is it always harmful to feel down? Not necessarily.

We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all feel down or irritated with ourselves at times. The occasional “Oh, that was stupid of me” or “Why did I do that?!” in response to a mess is not uncommon.

“Everyone has had some level of negative self-talk at some point. Maybe they gave themselves a name or something,” says Dr. Alexander. “If you say that to yourself occasionally, it’s not necessarily going to have a great effect on you. Harmful negative self-talk is when the dialogue in someone’s head is consistently negative, perhaps more negative than positive.”

Examples of negative self-talk

Negative self-talk is more than just a guilty conscience. Sure, everyone feels a little down at times — it’s a natural part of life. It’s also important to be self-aware and know when to make mistakes.

For this reason, emphasizes Dr. Alexander, negative self-talk becomes harmful when it becomes the primary way you talk to yourself.

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Some examples of negative self-talk include:

  • “I can’t do anything right. I shouldn’t even try.”
  • “No one likes me, I should stop making friends.”
  • “I don’t like anything about myself.”
  • “I’m so stupid.”

If you find yourself engaged in this type of internal talk all the time — whether you’re actually saying it out loud to those around you or just in your head — your negative self-talk can be interfering with your mental well-being.

How negative self-talk can be harmful

The way we talk to ourselves is important. It is the story we tell ourselves about our lives, our feelings and experiences. Notice when you’re bogged down in negative thoughts and self-criticism, and look for ways to change that (more on that in a moment).

Here are some very real ways you can get stuck in bad headspace:

  • It can make anxiety or depression worse. Negative self-talk can be the sneaky connection that’s compounding any depression or anxiety you’re feeling. When you’re going through certain mental difficulties, the last thing your mind needs is constant criticism. Also, it can make you shy away from your support systems. “People who engage in harmful negative self-talk are much more likely to withdraw and isolate themselves,” explains Dr. Alexander. This can become a major risk factor for depression and anxiety, even suicide.”
  • It can damage your relationship with others. While venting your loved ones is important, negative self-talk can cause you to traumatize your friends and family. If the endless dialogue in your head and with others is negative, it can strain your relationships. “This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sharing these thoughts with others can initially put your mind at ease. But at a certain point, people can turn away from you,” notes Dr. Alexander.
  • It can hurt your self-esteem. You can develop low self-esteem from the overload of negative thoughts in your head. The more upset you are about not doing things right, the less confident you have to try again. “You reap what you sow,” says Dr. Alexander. “Of course, if all you have on your mind is that negativity, it will continue to affect your mood. So you need to start practicing different ways of talking to yourself.”
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How to overcome negative self-talk

ask yourself: “Would I say those negative things about my closest friends?”

Probably not. So you must learn to treat yourself with the same gentle care and respect that you treat your loved ones.

But how do you break the cycle of self-criticism? It can be difficult to break this habit since the person you spend most of your time with is yourself. But there are ways to break the cycle of negative thinking.

Here are some ways to deal with negative self-talk:

Try neutral thinking

You may think that the perfect antidote to negative self-talk is positive self-talk. But that may be too big a leap for some people. The truth is that the key to being kinder to yourself doesn’t necessarily have to be praising yourself — especially when it doesn’t feel sincere.

“It probably won’t feel very natural at first,” says Dr. Alexander. Instead, she recommends neutralizing your thoughts. From being extremely negative, take them to a more realistic and balanced version of what you think.

She offers this example to show how our thoughts can become distorted:

negative emotional trigger negative Thought Realistic approach
out of you
failed a test.
“I failed this test. I can’t do anything right I will fail at everything. It’s no use even trying.” “It’s okay if I’m disappointed that I didn’t pass the test. But I’m good at other things and I can think of some ways to prevent that from happening in the future.”

The key to doing this successfully? dr Alexander says it gets caught in those thoughts and bats them away like a pesky fly.

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“Then, as you practice, you can start moving into more positive thinking. You can highlight some of your positive qualities, the things you do right,” adds Dr. Alexander added. “And then slowly but surely seeding a different way of thinking. It certainly takes time.”

Repeat, repeat, repeat

The best way to develop healthy habits is repetition. But habits don’t change overnight.

“Whatever is repeated over and over will eventually become ingrained in your memory,” assures Dr. Alexander. “That’s how the negative thoughts came about in the first place. You repeat them over and over again.” Instead, try repeating more balanced thoughts to replace the negative ones.

Writing down realistic or positive thoughts can also help them gain traction. Anything that helps create a new narrative in your head can filter out the negative thoughts. dr Alexander recommends using mind cards – where you write the thoughts you want to have on a card and read them to yourself.

Don’t look at negative self-talk as a motivator

We all know the importance of self-discipline and humility. But you don’t have to be mean to yourself about it. In fact, negative self-talk can keep you from being more successful.

All of this to say that constant negative self-talk doesn’t make you more confident or help you do things faster or better. Making a comment to yourself here and there, “do better” or “get back on your feet” is one thing, but don’t let it spill into harmful territory.

“When we’re talking about someone who’s just burdened, overloaded with negative self-talk, the exact opposite happens,” explains Dr. Alexander. “It generates more negative emotions. You feel more uncomfortable.”

Sometimes being good to yourself is easier said than done. Life can throw us some blows that we might not expect, and we often blame ourselves directly. While it’s normal to feel this way at times, having an endless stream of negative thoughts about yourself can become very toxic very quickly. But the good news is that with practice and self-awareness, you can rephrase these thoughts.

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