Each time you scold or belittle yourself for a minor mistake like running a bit late to a meeting, calling a new coworker by the wrong name, or saying something awkward during a part, you engage in negative self-talk. The more often it happens, the higher chance that it becomes a habit or even an automatic reaction. At the moment, it can seem harmless, yet negative self-talk can cause significant pain and emotional distress over time. If you struggle with abusive inner dialogue, keep on reading. In this blog post, we take a closer look at the causes and effects of this phenomenon and discuss how to deal with negative self-talk and support your mental health along the way.

What Is Negative Self-Talk?

Negative self-talk, aka the inner critic, is known in psychotherapy as ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts, i.e., thinking:

  • “I am so stupid; I don’t deserve them.” when upsetting your partner unintentionally.
  • “There’s no way I’ll ever pass this.” when taking an exam.
  • “I bet everyone hated me there.” after leaving a party.

Sounds familiar? Human brains are hard-wired to prioritize focusing on the distressing or upsetting aspects of reality to protect us from potential danger. This phenomenon called negativity bias worked in the past, helping our ancestors survive.

Nowadays, though, the challenge is not fighting to survive but learning how to thrive. That task comes down to balancing the negatives with the positives, and it starts with your decision to treat yourself with love, kindness, and respect. Doing so brings many benefits, such as:

  • a broader perspective on your issues,
  • curiosity to explore and be playful,
  • more connections with other people,
  • better overall health,
  • higher relationship satisfaction.

Our inner critic is never content and has an insatiable hunger. It can push us to hold ourselves to highly unrealistic standards, not accepting anything less than perfection. Sooner or later, it leads to:

You’re more likely to struggle with these issues if you’ve ever experienced:

These experiences might be the root cause of the difficulty in treating yourself with kindness, warmth, or compassion and having a higher sensitivity to signs of rejection or criticism, which can result in the tendency to be self-abusive.

3 Ways To Deal with Negative Self-Talk

Be Sceptical

Did you know that, on average, each human produces over 6000 thoughts every single day?

Most of them are repetitive, mundane, seemingly irrelevant, or silly, while others are a bit more significant or impactful. Yet, they have one thing in common: they’re just thoughts, not reality.

One of the best things you can do to cope with your harsh inner critic is to stop assuming that what they say is true and become more skeptical, observant, and non-judgmental. Think of your negative self-talk as fake news. 

Whenever you catch yourself engaging in abusive inner dialogue:

  • simply pause for a moment
  • find facts that can act as arguments against that thought
  • rephrase it so that it’s more realistic
Let’s say you came back home after a first date with your crush. You check your phone in hopes that they texted you something, but there’s no message.

You immediately think: 

“Of course, they didn’t text me. There’s no chance they’re interested in me. Who would be? I’m so pathetic”.

What if you rephrased that thought and said: 

“They didn’t text me, but I haven’t done that either. I can’t read their mind, so I don’t know whether they’re interested.”

Maybe finish it by listing things you like about yourself, like: 

“I think I’m creative and have a good sense of humor.”

Train Your Self-Compassion Muscle

Once you notice your negative self-talk, you might feel the urge to change it immediately. Yet, the only thing that’s within your control is your attitude. So, allow your negative, distressing, and uncomfortable thoughts to take up space, and accept them entirely. 

Such emotional vulnerability can help you understand where they come from, i.e.:

  • an adverse event from your past
  • someone’s abusive comment
  • a toxic relationship

It’s natural for all of us to be hurt or scarred by our past, which influences how we function in the present and our worries or fears regarding our futures. But bullying yourself and forcing your mind to think differently is highly detrimental. 

Try your best to empathize with your struggles and be compassionate. If that’s challenging, think about it this way:

If that was your friend who just confided in you, how would you treat them? 

I bet you’d see their struggles as nothing to be ashamed of but something to be gentle about. 

So whenever you start talking down to yourself, invest in deepening your relationship with yourself and treat yourself like you’d treat a friend.

You can also consider journaling as a way to express your thoughts and feelings – research proves that it aids the healing process.

Activate Your Soothing System

According to CFT, Compassion-Focused Therapy, we have 3 emotion regulation systems that we activate depending on what we do:

Drive system:

  • goal-directed, focused on pursuing achievements
  • gives us dopamine, which feels rewarding
  • Overutilizing this system leads to the constant hustle and struggling with the inner critic, shame, and disappointment upon failing

Threat system:

  • the strongest system of all
  • helps us stay safe by detecting real and perceived dangers 
  • releases adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone)
  • i.e., freeze, fight or flight responses
  • overutilizing this system leads to intense anxiety and self-criticism

Soothing system:

  • activated when we don’t have a goal
  • helps us destress, connect with others, and the self
  • it helps reach forgiveness, acceptance, support, and calmness
  • releases oxytocin, endorphins, and opiates (aka feel-good neurochemicals)
  • i.e., self-care, mindfulness

Ask yourself how often you are:

  • Working, 
  • Being in a rush, 
  • Focused on getting something done,
  • Stressed. 

And how often do you engage in self-soothing or restful activities? 

The more time you spend in the drive or threat system, the stronger your negative self-talk will be. Rest, self-care, and connecting to the present moment are vital for your mental well-being. So make sure to prioritize and schedule time for self-soothing activities, such as:

  • meditating,
  • mindful eating/stretching,
  • breaking exercises,
  • spend time with your loved ones.

Get Professional Help with Harbor Psychiatry

Facing your inner critic is, without a doubt, a difficult and painful challenge. Yet, you’re not alone in this. 

Discussing your mental health issue with a licensed psychologist also allows you to understand yourself better, find the root cause and reframe your beliefs so that you can move on with higher self-esteem and confidence.

Learn how to deal with negative self-talk by contacting us here.