4 science-backed ways to identify and stop negative self-talk
There’s no switch to completely turn off our negative self-talk, but the most important thing we can do in these instances is to get mindful.
The road to self-love is a winding one, with self-talk as the navigation system.
It’s no secret that the way we communicate with ourselves plays a major role in the way we see and experience the world around us. That’s why being mindful of these very delicate words we use on a regular basis is extremely important.
Yet there are times when negative self-talk can get the best of us, and that’s completely normal.
Unfortunately, there’s no switch to completely turn off our negative self-talk, but the most important thing we can do in these instances is to get mindful. “Usually negative self-talk is so automatic that it happens outside of conscious awareness,” LaToya Gaines, PsyD, tells Shine. “The first step is to practice being mindful of these thoughts as they happen at the moment.”
Gaines says once you get better at noticing your self-talk, you unlock greater flexibility to deal with and change those thoughts.
The tricky thing about negative self-talk is that it can come in many forms. According to Mayo Clinic, there are four main ones to be exact: personalizing, filtering, catastrophizing, and polarizing.
Here, we break down each one and share some tips on how to overcome it.
Personalizing is basically when “It’s not you, it’s me” becomes your mantra. If something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself.
For instance: If you text the group chat and everyone takes much longer to reply than normal, you start thinking to yourself, “Everyone is probably mad at me” or “they clearly don’t want to be friends with me anymore.” When, in fact, they all could just be having a very busy day.
“The first step is to do some reality testing,” Gaines says. She recommends challenging the thought by asking yourself:
- Is there any evidence to support this thought?
- Is the thought factual or just my interpretation?
“Next, think of an alternative explanation to counteract the negative thought,” she says.
The next time you’re feeling as though you’re to blame if something goes wrong or seems different than normal—take a step back. Breathe deeply and look at the situation from the outside. You know your friends care about you—what are some other, more realistic reasons you haven’t heard from them?
With filtering, you magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example: If you’re trying to save money and go over budget by $50, you might get caught up on that instead of the fact that you still put $200 away in savings.
Personally, I do this one a lot.
Every accomplishment, no matter if they are big or small, can outweigh the negative. When you begin to look at the glass as half full, instead of half empty, life will feel so much more rewarding.
If you find yourself filtering, try to jot down all the things that have gone right recently. You’ll slowly begin to realize that things may not be as bad as they seem.
With catastrophizing, you automatically anticipate the worst. For example: On the way to the office, the train gets stopped underground and you immediately assume you’ll be stuck for hours.
When this comes up, Gaines suggests putting things into perspective. “This includes thinking ‘How likely is this to happen?’ considering other outcomes, and distinguishing between uncomfortable vs. catastrophe,” she says.
Can a stalled train actually stay stuck for hours? And, if it does, wouldn’t you still be okay in the long run? This is another instance in which taking a step back to look at a situation for what it really is can come in handy.
With polarizing, you see things only as either good or bad. There is no middle ground. It’s the feeling that you have to be perfect or you’re a total failure. For example: If you’ve been getting up early all week, and one morning you feel the need to get a few more zzz’s and hit snooze—suddenly, you feel as though this makes you a lazy person.
In these instances, you’ve got to treat yourself with kindness. If you don’t do something perfectly, reassure yourself that you’re only human. You’re allowed to make choices that cater to your needs at the moment. And sometimes, what we view as a mistake can become a lesson or motivation to keep trying.
Combating these types of negative self-talk takes practice. I know first-hand that they can sometimes be hard to shake, so it’s important to incorporate positivity whether you’re experiencing tough moments or not.
“Start the day off with some positive affirmations,” Gaines says. “These can include simple phrases such as, ‘I am good enough,’ ‘I will be able to cope,’ or my favorite, ‘Breathe, you got this!’ Similar to when negative thoughts arise, challenge yourself to put a positive spin on them.”
Practicing positivity isn’t about disregarding the unfortunate nature of a situation, but instead acknowledging that you will find a way around it. And trust me—you will.