As adolescents trying to navigate the wilderness that is reality, lost and confused, sometimes hopeless, we can’t help but rip ourselves apart with our own negativity seemingly rooted in our subconscious. There’s a little voice in our head which chooses to be encouraging from time to time but is rather cruel otherwise. It constantly subjects us to reminders of our deteriorating self worth and confidence, mocks our inabilities, discourages us from putting ourselves out there and is drenched in some variant of self pity. All of it, for the most part, seems inescapable and not without reason but as time goes on and as the tales we’ve heard from those that came before us ring true, we realise that nothing is impossible and that this too, shall pass.
What is Negative Self Talk?
Negative self-talk can take many forms. It can sound grounded or it's downright mean. It may seem like a realistic appraisal of a situation, only to devolve into a fear-based fantasy.
The musings of your inner critic may sound a lot like a critical parent or friend from your past. It can follow the path of typical cognitive distortions: catastrophizing, blaming, and the like.
Therefore, negative self-talk is any inner dialogue you have with yourself that may be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities, and to reach your potential. It has the ability to not only crush your spirit but also stunt your success.
Consequences of Negative self Talk
Negative self-talk can affect us in some pretty damaging ways. One large-scale study found that rumination and self-blame over negative events were linked to an increased risk of mental health problems.
Focusing on negative thoughts may lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness. This type of critical inner dialogue has even been linked to depression, so it's definitely something to fix.
Those who find themselves frequently engaging in negative self-talk tend to be more stressed. This is in large part due to the fact that their reality is altered to create an experience where they don't have the ability to reach the goals they've set for themselves.
Negative self-talk can lead to a lowered ability to see opportunities, as well as a decreased tendency to capitalize on these opportunities. This means that the heightened sense of stress comes from both the perception and the changes in behavior that come from it. Other consequences of negative self-talk can include:
Limited thinking: The more you tell yourself you can't do something, the more you believe it.
Perfectionism: You begin to really believe that "great" isn't as good as "perfect," and that perfection is actually attainable. In contrast, mere high achievers tend to do better than their perfectionistic counterparts because they are generally less stressed and are happy with a job well done. They don't pick it apart and try to zero in on what could have been better.
Feelings of depression: Some research has shown that negative self-talk can lead to an exacerbation of feelings of depression. If left unchecked, this could be quite damaging.
Relationship challenges: Whether the constant self-criticism makes you seem needy and insecure or you turn your negative self-talk into more general negative habits that bother others, a lack of communication and even a "playful" amount of criticism can take a toll.
How to minimise Negative Self Talk?
There are many ways to prevent the self-talk in your daily life. Different strategies work better for different people, so try a few on and see which ones are most effective for you.
Catch Your Critic
Learn to notice when you're being self-critical so you can begin to stop. For example, notice when you say things to yourself that you wouldn't say to a good friend or a child.
Remember That Thoughts and Feelings Aren't Always Reality
Thinking negative things about yourself may feel like astute observations, but your thoughts and feelings about yourself can definitely not be considered accurate information. Your thoughts can be skewed like everyone else's, subject to biases and the influence of your moods.
Give Your Inner Critic a Nickname
There was once a "Saturday Night Live" character known as Debbie Downer. She would find the negative in any situation. If your inner critic has this dubious skill as well, you can tell yourself, "Debbie Downer is doing her thing again."
When you think of your inner critic as a force outside of yourself and even give it a goofy nickname, it's not only easier to realize that you don't have to agree, but it becomes less threatening and more easy to see how ridiculous some of your critical thoughts can be.
Contain Your Negativity
If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, it helps to contain the damage that a critical inner voice can cause by only allowing it to criticize certain things in your life, or be negative for only an hour in your day. This puts a limit on how much negativity can come from the situation.
Change Negativity to Neutrality
When engaging in negative self-talk, you may be able to catch yourself, but it can sometimes be difficult to force yourself to stop a train of thought in its tracks. It's often far easier to change the intensity of your language. "I can't stand this" becomes, "This is challenging." "I hate..." becomes, "I don't like..." and even, "I don't prefer..." When your self-talk uses more gentle language, much of its negative power is muted as well.
Cross-Examine Your Inner Critic
One of the damaging aspects of negative self-talk is that it often goes unchallenged. After all, if it's going on in your head, others may not be aware of what you're saying and thus can't tell you how wrong you are.
It's far better to catch your negative self-talk and ask yourself how true it is. The vast majority of negative self-talk is an exaggeration, and calling yourself on this can help to take away its damaging influence.
Replace the Bad With Some Good
This is one of the best routes to combating negative self-talk: Replace it with something better. Take a negative thought and change it to something encouraging that's also accurate.
Repeat until you find yourself needing to do it less and less often. This works well with most bad habits: replacing unhealthy food with healthy food, for example. It's a great way to develop a more positive way of thinking about yourself and about life.
Written By - Noyonica Chatterjee (interned at Just A Teen)