Negative self-talk: what it is, how it affects us and how to manage it
Negative self-talk can take the form of simple pessimism or a mental disorder.
The way we talk to ourselves in the depths of our mind influences both how we feel and how we relate to the world and others.
If our internal dialogue is negative, it can distort our interpretation of reality, causing us to feel bad and to feel that we are not in the right place.If our internal dialogue is negative, it can distort our interpretation of reality, causing us to feel bad and behave ineffectively in the face of the problems that make up our daily lives.
Learning to change our self-talk is fundamental to change our emotions and behaviors. By replacing our negative and demoralizing thoughts with positive and motivating ones, we will be able to enjoy greater well-being and have a more constructive vision of reality. Let's find out how to achieve this.
Negative internal dialogue: when we are our own worst critic
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with a wise proverb, which is perfect to explain today's topic:
"Watch your thoughts because they will become words. Watch your words because they will become deeds. Take care of your acts because they will become habits. Take care of your habits because they will forge your character. Take care of your character because it will form your destiny. And your destiny will be your life.
What we say to ourselves and repeat in our minds can condition the way we see the world and relate to it.. If we have a positive, hopeful and joyful way of thinking, we will perceive the world as a safe place, full of opportunities and also a place where we can grow and relate to others in a healthy way.
On the other hand, if we think in negative terms, telling ourselves that we are not worth it or reminding ourselves of the bad things we have done in the past, we will be filled with frustrations, fears and insecurity, seeing the world as a dangerous place in which our day-to-day problems are insurmountable.
We can define negative internal dialogue as the thread of thought that we have with ourselves in the form of silent chatter in which we tell ourselves bad things, aspects of ourselves or of the world.negative aspects of ourselves or the world.
Our mental voice reminds us of our weaknesses, exaggerates threats and even attributes to us faults that we did not really commit or that we had little responsibility for committing. Our worst critic is ourselves, and it is through this type of dialogue that we whip ourselves.
This may not seem very relevant to many of you. Is it so negative to say bad things to each other from time to time? It is true that we are not always going to think in a positive, happy and great way, since too many things happen to us in this life to always think in a happy way, now, there is an important difference between having a negative thought from time to time and another is to turn it into a constant dialogue in the privacy of our mind.
That continuous runrun can condition our life so much that it prevents us from enjoying it, changes our behavior and makes us feel terrible.
The content of our mind is made up of thoughts, interpretations, expectations and internal self-dialogue.. All this can manifest itself in the form of phrases and images.
When our thoughts or the dialogue we have with ourselves are negative, dramatic and irrefutable, the interpretation we make of reality is distorted, giving rise to emotions and ways of facing the world and experiences that are not adjusted to the real situation that triggers them.
Psychological effects of negative internal dialogue
Negative internal dialogue can be tremendously detrimental to our mental health and the performance of our daily activities, so much so that its appearance in the form of obsessive ideas could be a symptom of a mental disorder such as OCD.
This does not mean that the fact of showing a negative internal dialogue necessarily means that we present psychopathology, however, it is true that it is something worrying enough to try to put an end to it.
The relationship between our thoughts and our emotions is strong and closeIf we have negative thoughts, we will feel negative emotions. Since our emotions drive our behavior, exaggerated or disproportionate thoughts about a negative situation will trigger intense emotional reactions that will lead to inappropriate and maladaptive behaviors.
In turn, our ineffective behavior will cause us to make more mistakes, which will feed and originate new negative thoughts and, consequently, intensely unpleasant emotions will be experienced again, causing problems when facing the world. That is to say, a whole vicious circle of negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors is generated.
Causes: why do we talk to each other badly?
As with many of our behaviors, our thoughts are learned, and this also applies to the type of internal dialogue we have with ourselves. Without underestimating genetics, the truth is that what strongly determines the way we think, feel and behave are our experiences. If we have learned to talk to ourselves in a certain way, this means that we can also learn to talk to ourselves in another way. In other words, it is possible to unlearn negative self-talk and learn positive self-talk, which is much more constructive and desirable.
The causes behind having a negative internal dialogue can be manifold. Virtually any aspect of a person's daily life, personality and experiences may have conditioned his or her mind to have a critical self-talk with himself or herself.. Personality traits are very influential, something that is very visible in anxious people who tend to interpret situations of any kind as more threatening than they really are.
We cannot ignore the effect of our social relationships. The family, as the first environment of socialization, shapes our way of thinking, conditioning our positive or negative way of seeing the world.
For example, if we had very strict parents, who relativized our successes and focused on our failures, we are likely to always think about all the bad things we do, leaving aside all the good things we undoubtedly do. Friendships, especially toxic ones, also condition our thinking in a similar way.
The experiences we have had are quite important.. It is common for us to judge our worth, capabilities and how well or badly we think something is going to turn out based on what we have already experienced. If, for example, we once made a mistake, it is likely that we will keep that mistake in mind every time we try to do something related to the situation in which we made the mistake.
- You may be interested in, "What is Emotional Intelligence?"
Cognitive biases involved in this dialogue.
In most cases, our negative internal dialogue is the result of a misinterpretation of reality, an interpretation which is the consequence of several cognitive biases, distortions that make us perceive reality in a biased way.. Among the cognitive biases that influence our way of interpreting reality and, therefore, can provoke a negative internal dialogue are:
- Magnification: giving too much importance to a negative fact or error.
- Minimization: downplaying a positive event or personal ability
- Catastrophizing: anticipating everything that can go wrong
- Overgeneralization: drawing universal conclusions from particular facts.
- Divination: believing that one knows why others behave the way they do.
These four main biases are associated with a wide repertoire of intense and negative emotions, which result in behavior that is poorly adjusted to the situation that chains them. If you can identify them, you can begin to curb negative self-talk.
How to stop negative self-talk
As we have seen, negative self-talk greatly affects our emotions and behavior and reduces our well-being and ability to cope with the demands of everyday life.
It can affect our family, social and work relationships, as well as preventing us from behaving in an adaptive way to the opportunities, challenges and complex situations that are part of life. Therefore, by changing the internal dialogue to a positive one, we can expect to feel more motivated, enjoy greater well-being and take advantage of all the good things that life has to offer us.
To put a stop to the negative internal dialogue we can base ourselves on the following four tips.
1. Detect the relationship between your thoughts, emotions and behavior.
When you experience a very intense negative emotion, try to stop that moment, even if it is difficult.
Write down on a piece of paper what has provoked it, what you have thought, what you have said to yourself and how you have interpreted the situation in which it has arisen.. Also write down your feelings and the behaviors associated with them. This is the first step, since this way we will detect both the origin and the behavioral consequences of our negative internal dialogue.
2. Are they reasonable thoughts?
Identify your thoughts and consider whether they are reasonable or not. A reasonable thought is one that can be contrasted by experience, empirically, and that is not exaggerated for what has provoked it.
An unreasonable thought, on the other hand, is based on unprovable assumptions, is expressed in a dramatic and exaggerated way and produces such intense emotions that it interferes with our ability to solve problems..
3. Try to generate alternative thinking
Once we have understood the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and behavior, in addition to assessing how unreasonable they are, we will try to generate an alternative way of thinking in a positive way.
To do this, we can use the sheet of paper from the first tip, writing a positive thought next to the original negative thought, something that can replace it and that does not provoke unpleasant and intense emotions.. Think of possibilities to that thought that are more in line with reality and do not cause you so much emotional discomfort.
4. Go to a psychologist
As we said, the negative internal dialogue can be a symptom of a psychological problem and, therefore, it will require professional help to treat it. This type of dialogues are present in the minds of people with depression, anxiety and OCD, among others, problems that can become very disabling and only with the help of a psychotherapist can they notice improvement.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is especially noteworthy.This type of treatment will help us learn techniques for the management of negative internal self-talk, which will improve our emotional state and will help us to face the problems of everyday life. Among them we can highlight Beck's cognitive therapy and Ellis' rational emotive therapy, which can put an end, or at least put a stop to this destructive and destructive negative internal dialogue.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)