12-05-2014 by 

Most of us are familiar with negative self-talk, that degrading inner critic that sneaks upstairs and settles in to stay, even when you don’t even know it’s there. That nagging, unpleasant voice may be the first thing you hear when you open your eyes in the morning and the last remnant of consciousness before you drop into dreamland at night. No wonder we feel angry, guilty, ashamed, anxious or depressed. No wonder we don’t know why.

Negative Thinking Takes Root

Those thoughts probably took root when you were very young. Negative thinking may start with an unkind word from a teacher or other authority figure, or repeated criticism by a parent or sibling. It really doesn’t matter. You can’t go back in time but you can change how you think and feel today and into the future. Stifling that persistent inner monologue is tough, but it’s possible.

Awareness - The Key

Awareness is the key to stifling negative self-talk. It’s a simple concept, but there’s nothing easy about it. Becoming aware of destructive thought patterns takes determination and practice, hour after hour, day after day.

Pay careful attention when you’re feeling bad about things and you’re likely to discover that negative thinking is nearly always involved. Learning to recognize that critical voice means you can challenge it and give it the old heave-ho. Soon, you’re on the road to feeling better.

Take a moment during those times and consider how the negative thinking affects you physically. Does your stomach feel queasy? Are your muscles tense? Do you feel like crying? Are your palms sweating? Sometimes, recognizing the physical symptoms associated with negative thinking is the clue that allows you to get a handle on the actual thoughts.

Understand Your Triggers

Think carefully about the events that triggered the negative thinking. Often, triggers can be as subtle as an offhand comment by a co-worker or seeing your image in a shop window. Sometimes it’s a chain reaction and one thought triggers another until you’re feeling completely overwhelmed.

When you stop to consider, you’ll probably realize that those distorted thoughts aren’t the real you. They are rife with exaggeration and overgeneralizations and they have little to do with reality. “I’ll never lose weight.” “What if I can’t pay the bills on time?” “I always screw everything up.” “I’ll never be good enough.”

Counter Negative Self-Talk

The best way to stifle negative self-talk is to counter it with a positive thought that affirms your value. Be kind but firm. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Don’t demand perfection. Remember that you are a flawed human being, just like every other person that has ever lived on this planet.

The more you practice turning negative self-talk into positive thinking, the more natural it becomes and the better you’ll feel.

Mood Keywords: sad, self-esteem, faults, punishment, decision-making
1. University of California Berkeley, University Health Services. “How to Address Negative Thinking.” http://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/How_to_Address_negative_thinking.pdf
2. ProHealth. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): “Self-Talk – What We Say to Ourselves Affects How We Feel”. http://www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?libid=12800
3. Martin, Ben, Psy.D: PsychCentral. “Challenging Negative Self-Talk”. http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/0003196
Image Credit: © templatemonster (used under license) - may be reused if remaining with article.
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