There is an inner critic inside all of us. Sometimes that voice is helpful and keeps us motivated towards our objectives, such as reminding us what we are about to do is unwise or what we are about to eat is unhealthy. But sometimes, the voice can also get excessively negative and bring us down. This negative voice is known as negative self-talk that most of us experience from time to time. It also creates stress for us and those around us. So, here is what you must know about negative self-talk, the effects on your mind, body, loved ones, and life in general.
What is Self-Talk?
Multiple dialogues run through our heads daily, ranging from talking to ourselves to how to carry out specific tasks and making observations about internal and external situations and the surrounding environment. According to studies, self-talk has a powerful impact on physical and mental health, including stress management, weight control, and improving performance in sports and academics.
If self-talk is positive, it can work wonders. But suppose negative thought patterns take the reigns, where you are indulging in ‘all-or-nothing thinking’ or are ‘jumping to conclusions’. In that case, it could lead to an eventual cognitive decline, including memory problems, etc. But if we can identify falling into this trap of negative self-talk, we can reappraise whether these interpretations are helping us live our lives in a fulfilling manner because our thoughts, feelings and emotions do not need to dictate our moods or behaviour.
What Is Negative Self-Talk?
Thoughts such as ‘I can never do anything right!’, ‘I am not good at this’, ‘I will never be able to make it to college’ count as negative self-talk. Negative self-talk has many forms. It may seem to be a realistic appraisal of a situation but may turn out to be a fear-based fantasy. The inner critic’s musings may sound a lot like a friend from your past or a critical parent. It can take the typical path of cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing, blaming, etc. Negative self-talk limits your ability to believe in yourself and your abilities and reach your fullest potential. Any negative thought can diminish your ability to make positive changes or your confidence. So, not only can negative self-talk be stressful, but it can also stunt your success.
Effects of Negative Self-Talk
Negative self-talk is accompanied by anger, fear, guilt, regret, shame, weakened muscles, increased stress levels, change in hormones, digestive or gastrointestinal problems, and other symptoms. Those who indulge in negative self-talk are generally less satisfied with life and more depressed. On the contrary, when you indulge in positive thoughts, your brain gets flooded with endorphins, which helps you relax, reduce pain, and increase the experience of pleasure. Resultantly you feel optimistic, confident and are motivated to achieve your goals.
Consequences of Negative Self-Talk
Negative self-talk can cause damage in more ways than actual physical damage. Large-scale studies suggest that self-blame, rumination, and over-brooding over adverse events increases the risk of mental health issues. Too much focus on negative thoughts and emotions decreases your zest and motivation, increasing feelings of helplessness. Therefore, this critical inner dialogue has been linked to depression, so it must be fixed.
If you are someone who indulges in constant, automatic negative self-talk, it is because you have created an alternate reality wherein you can not reach the goals you have set for yourself, leading you towards a downward emotional spiral. This negative dialogue with yourself lowers your ability to find and capitalize on opportunities. Other consequences include –
- Limited Thinking:
There’s a catch here. The more you tell yourself that you cannot do a certain thing, the more you believe it, and it manifests.
You begin to believe that perfectionism is achievable and are not happy with anything mediocre.
- Feelings of Depression:
Negative Self-talk has been shown to worsen depression. If it goes unnoticed or unchecked, it could be pretty damaging.
- Relationship Challenges:
The absence of communication in a relationship can always be filled with negative self-talk. It makes you feel insecure and can take a toll on your relationship.
Another obvious drawback of negative self-talk is that it is not positive. While this sounds simplistic, according to research, positive self-talk predicts success.
How to Stop Negative Self-Talk
While there are several ways of reducing negative self-talk in day to day life, there are no one-size-fits-all strategies. A different set of strategies work better for different kinds of people. Enlisted below are some of them you can try for yourself –
Learn To Catch Your Inner Critic
Try to notice when you are being self-critical. When you identify the onset of negative self-talk, try to stop it. Stop yourself there. Nip the thought in the bud.
Thoughts and Feelings Aren’t Always Reality – Remind Yourself About It
Automatic negative thoughts about yourself may feel like astute observations, but they are just thoughts and feelings. They cannot be considered accurate, factual information because they are subject to biases, prejudices, and the influence of your varied moods.
Give Your Inner Critic a Nickname
Considering your inner critic as an external force, a force outside of yourself, beyond your agency, and giving it a goofy nickname, makes you realize that you dont have to agree with it. This way, you would be able to observe how ridiculous some of your thoughts are and witness them becoming less threatening.
Limit Your Negative Self-Talk to An Hour a Day
When engaging in negative self-talk, it helps to contain the damage that a critical inner voice can cause. Allow your negative self-talk to be harmful for only an hour in your day or criticize only certain things in your life. This puts a cap on how much negativity you can experience from the situation.
Change Negativity to Neutrality
When your inner critic takes over, you may be able to catch yourself, but it can be challenging to force yourself to stop a chain of thoughts that is more like a stream of consciousness. Neutralize it by changing the intensity of your language into, “This is challenging,” “I don’t like…” and “I don’t prefer…” When you self-talk using gentle language, a significant portion of its negative power gets muted.
Cross-Examine Your Inner Critic With Rationality
Since negative self-talk mostly goes on in your head, it often goes unchallenged. It is far better to catch yourself while indulging in negative self-talk and monitor yourself to find out the truth in it. Most of the musings of the inner critic is an exaggeration. Cross-examining yourself can take away its credibility and its damaging influence.
Think Like a Friend
With your inner critic at its worst, it can sound and become your worst enemy. We often utter things to ourselves in our heads that we would never say to a friend. Try reversing this idea. When you see yourself indulging in negative self-talk, make it a point to imagine yourself saying this to your best friend.
If you know, you wouldn’t utter any of it to your friend. Think of how you would share your thoughts with your treasured friend or what you would like your best friend to say to you. This is an effective way to shift your self-talk.
Shift Your Perspective
Looking at things in the long term puts them in perspective. It helps you realize that you may be placing too much emphasis on something that does not require it.
Another way to shift perspective is to look at your problems from a distance. If you think of yourself as a tiny person on this giant globe, you will realize that most of your worries aren’t as problematic as they seem. This can often minimize the negativity of negative self-talk.
Say It Out, Aloud
When you catch yourself thinking negatively, verbalizing them aloud can help. Confiding with a trusted friend about what you are thinking can often lead to a good laugh and highlight how ridiculous your negative self-talk can be.
Stop That Thought Now!
While some can stop negative thoughts instantly, others can take a while. It is known as ‘thought-stopping’ and can be in the form of visualizing a stop sign, snapping a rubber band, or shifting to another thought when a negative one enters your mind’s space.
Replace the Bad Thoughts With Good Ones
One of the best ways to combat negative self-talk is to replace it with a better, positive thought. Pick an ongoing negative thought and transform it into something encouraging and accurate. Repeat this exercise until you find yourself needing to do it less often. It works well with most bad habits and helps develop more positive thinking about yourself.
As mentioned above, you can minimize the amount of self-talk you indulge in with these ways. Alternatively, you can take the help of mental health apps, but if it gets too much to handle, you can always reach out to personalized mental health help on your phone.