Negative Self-Talks: Breaking the Cycle

Authored by Madison Woo

Negative self-talk is having an internal dialogue with yourself that undermines your ability to believe in yourself and in your skills and talents. Therefore, negative self-talks limit your potential for positive change and success.

Types of negative self-talks:

  • All-or-Nothing (aka Black and White): Categorizing things solely as one extreme or another

  • Commonly uses “always,” “every,” and “never”

  • Example: “I shouldn’t go because I always mess everything up.”

  • Magnification/Catastrophizing: Turning a small negative event into a disaster in your mind by exaggerating your flaws and errors

  • Example: After making a mistake at a sports tryout, you believe that everyone will think you're untalented/clueless and will not chose you for the team.

  • Fortune Telling: Assuming what will happen without solid evidence

  • Assumes a negative outcome

  • Example: “I’m going to fail this test and then I won’t pass the class and I won’t be able to get into my dream college.”

  • Overgeneralization: Believing a single event will be recurring

  • Example: Getting a bad grade on one test leads to you believing that you will do poorly on future tests and therefore not pass the class.

  • Personalization: Blaming something yourself, especially things out of your control

  • Example: “If I behaved and did all my chores like my parents asked, they would still be together.”

  • Mental Filtering: Focusing only on the negative things, filtering out the positive aspects

  • Often involves dismissing personal strengths

  • Example: Doing well on a test but beating yourself down for missing one of the easiest questions

  • Mind Reading: Assuming what people are thinking without solid evidence

  • Example: While giving a presentation you see someone look at their phone. You think they believe your presentation is boring and now regret not choosing a better topic.

  • Emotional Reasoning: Failing to make decisions from our values by letting our feelings get in the way

  • Example: “I don’t feel like studying for the test right now.”

People often give themselves negative self-talks in a joking kind of manner. It’s important to recognize when these negative views become overbearing and harm the way people think about themselves. Such thoughts can feed into a cycle of habitual self-criticism that diminishes self-esteem and self-confidence.

The first step to ending negative self-talks is to realize when you are having them. Then you can reframe your thoughts. Although its appearance will vary by situation, common methods of reframing your thoughts includes asking yourself how true your thought is (in the present and future), identifying and accepting your emotions, and changing the negative thought into a positive one. It also helps to imagine you are talking to a friend. Most people would be encouraging towards their friends, so learning to be a friend to yourself will help create positive self-talks and develop self-compassion.


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