For many people negative self-talk is an established fact of life: thoughts like “I’m stupid”, “Nobody cares what I think” or “I’m so fat and ugly” become so repetitive and ingrained that we hardly realise we are thinking them. Overtime these unhelpful thoughts erode our sense of self-confidence until we are convinced that they are the truth – often leading to a downward spiral of depression and anxiety. This is the misery of negative self-talk.
In fact, balanced self-criticism is a perfectly normal, healthy function of everyone’s thought processes – It’s the self-checking mechanism in our heads which is meant to prevent us from doing dangerous or harmful things. Let’s take an extreme example: imagine you wanted to walk across a busy motorway blindfold – your inner critic would immediately (and quite rightly) tell you that this was an incredibly stupid idea. In this instance self-criticism is actually a very valuable and positive trait which has prevented you from becoming a very flat road traffic accident statistic…
However, problems occur when that self-criticism becomes excessive or unbalanced. Instead of being a fair appraisal of yourself and your abilities negative self-talk becomes a constant critic – turning the positive and motivating thought “I need to exercise more” into hurtful and unhelpful beliefs, such as “I’m just a fat slob”, “People at the gym will laugh at me” or “I’m disgusting”.
The good news is that there are a number of effective strategies London Psychotherapists use you can employ to challenge your lop-sided thinking – tackling negative self-talk and allowing you to have a much more realistic view of yourself, your abilities and the world around you.
1) Reality checking
The problem with negative self-talk is that it is often not telling you the truth. Assumptions about people and situations are automatically assumed to be correct – without any checking of the facts. Imagine being on the bus and hearing some people laugh. A normal, balanced thought would be that they are friends sharing a joke – however, negative self talk immediately pipes up and says “They are laughing at me”. Straight away you’ve jumped to a negative conclusion – without any checking of the facts. Using reality checking to challenge negative self-talk and incorrect assumptions can be a powerful way to counter that inner-critic. Ask yourself what evidence there is for your thinking and identify when you are jumping to the ‘worst case scenario”. For example, a quick glance reveals that the people who laughed were watching something amusing on a Smartphone.
2) Looking for alternatives
Negative self talk often prevents you from considering alternative explanations or ways to interpret a situation. A snigger from someone behind you on the bus is ALWAYS directed at you; an argument with your spouse will ALWAYS be because they no longer find you attractive or don’t love you. Negative self talk is like wearing a pair of glasses that only allows you to see the worst explanation. Actively slowing your immediate reaction and asking yourself “Is there another way I could look at this?” enables you to reassert more balanced thinking. Putting aside your immediate negative judgement and saying to yourself “What evidence do I have that this is true?” can be very helpful in determining a more realistic view. For example, remembering that your partner told you only yesterday that they loved you and that they are stressed because of work problems puts a much less catastrophic spin on your thinking.
3) Avoid Black & white thinking
People who suffer from excessive negative self-talk often see the world in polar opposites: everything is either totally black or absolutely white. Whereas reality (and especially relationships and situations) is actually much less clear cut than this. This “all or nothing” thinking prevents you from seeing the complex reality of situations. Very few things are actually all good or all bad. Shifting your perspective can be of great help in restabilising a more balanced view. For example, asking yourself “What’s the worst than can happen?” could be replaced with “What is most likely to happen?” or even “Will this matter in 10 years time?” Crucially, never be afraid to ask yourself “Is this situation as bad as I think it is?”
Of course, these 3 examples are only a few of the many ways that you can tackle your inner critic. Professional help – along with time and practice – can replace excessive negative self talk with a much more balanced way of thinking.