Everyone you have ever known has a stream of dialogue running through their brain at all times. We talk and listen to ourselves more than you might think. In this world of hustle and perfectionism, negative self-talk has become a prominent topic in scientific research. The effects of negative self-talk might surprise you!
What is Negative Self Talk
Negative self-talk is a negative inner dialogue aimed at yourself. It can come in the form of statements like:
“There’s no use in even trying,”
“Wow, I’m so stupid,”
“I ruin everything,”
We go about our lives hardly giving our thoughts a second glance. In fact, it can be so easy to glaze over negative thoughts that they become ingrained in our psyche without us noticing. It’s important to understand the effects of negative self-talk and how it impacts our mood and overall health.
Not all negative thought loops are the same. There are 4 different types of negative self-talk, and they all present themselves differently.
Catastrophizing is a type of negative self-talk defined by expecting the worst. An example of catastrophizing is driving to work and thinking about getting in a car wreck that would leave you physically impaired for life.
It doesn’t always have to be that dramatic, though. Catastrophizing can come in the form of never expecting a positive outcome. For example, you could get stuck in traffic and immediately assume you will be hours late to the office.
The thing about catastrophizing is that you feel the associated emotions as if it were really happening. This article from the National Institute of Health explains the tendency to catastrophize after a traumatic event.
The diagram in the article illustrates the cyclical nature of negative thinking and how confronting the catastrophizing thought can break the cycle.
Polarizing comes into play when you see things as either good or bad – no in between. With this type of negative self-talk, there is no middle ground. Perfectionism is an attribute of polarizing, and you may find yourself avoiding the things you love in fear of messing up.
For example, you commit to hitting the gym four days a week. If something comes up and you only make it to the gym three days out of the week, you chastise yourself for being lazy. You never praise yourself for the three days you stuck to your commitment. Your entire outlook is dominated by the one day you missed.
Polarizing negative self-talk allows no room for compromise and sets an unrealistic standard for yourself.
Filtering is categorized by only seeing the bad in every situation. When you filter, your brain chooses not to see the good areas of your experiences.
For example, you went out to a party and spilled your drink across the table. Even though you had a nice time, all you focus on is the fact that you spilled your drink. You filter out how much fun you had with your friends and focus on how embarrassing it was to make a mess.
Filtering tends to make everything look worse than it is. Since you’re constantly worried about doing the wrong thing, it can be difficult to enjoy yourself.
Personalizing is defined by blaming yourself for anything and everything that goes wrong. When it comes to personalizing, you don’t even have to be in a bad situation to feel like you’re to blame
An example of personalizing would be reaching out to a friend but getting their voicemail. Instead of assuming they are busy, you automatically suspect they are mad at you and assume you did something wrong. You might even feel this way until you hear from them again.
The Effects of Negative Self Talk
The effects of negative self-talk can influence both your mental and physical health. The release of catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine (pleasure hormone), and norepinephrine (a hormone that triggers fight or flight) is increased when stress combines with negative self-talk.
These hormones circulate in your blood and increase your cortisol (stress) level. If cortisol is chronically present in the blood, it can decrease the volume of the left prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the area of the brain that regulates positive thinking.
So, in short, the effects of negative self-talk can actually shrink areas of your brain. Plus, when cortisol is combined with hormones like adrenaline, your body goes into trauma mode. This means your senses are readying themselves to fight for their life – when in reality, you just spilled your drink.
When your hormones circulate in this way, it creates a feedback loop that affects your mood, weight control, motivation, and heart health.
Negative self-talk can create a myriad of symptoms that include anxiety, depression, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and chronic fatigue.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry. There are ways to combat the effects of negative self-talk. With a little practice, you can break the cycle and take control of your internal dialogue.
Pay Attention to Your Inner Dialogue
The first thing you need to do when coping with the effects of negative self-talk is to pay attention to your thoughts. As I said, it can be all too easy to glaze over that little voice in your head. Remember, you have to know your opponent to defeat them.
Take a few days to really listen to yourself. Jot down different thoughts you notice, and try to determine a trigger for your negative thoughts. This is where knowing the different types of negative self-talk comes in handy.
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss anything (polarizing). Just do your best and see what you come up with at the end. When you have a good idea of how you speak to yourself, you can start to change it.
Confront the Thought
When you find yourself thinking negatively, confront the thought head-on. For example, if you find yourself fretting over eating a cookie, even though you’ve been going strong with your diet for a month, lend yourself some reason.
Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen from eating one cookie? Use reason and logic to dig yourself out of the spiral. You know that one cookie won’t hurt your progress. If anything, it is a reward for doing so well.
If you start to catastrophize about your cookie choices, remind yourself that you have successfully stuck to your diet up to this point and have the determination to continue.
Confronting the negative thought is the first step in breaking the cycle. Once you do this a few times, you will begin to notice your thoughts more frequently.
Replace Negative with Positive
Once you start listening to your thoughts, you can start replacing the negative with the positive.
Instead of thinking “I was too stupid to get that promotion. That’s why they passed me up,”
Try this instead: “I didn’t get the promotion, but that means I am open for better opportunities,”
We can’t control our initial thought, but we can control the thought that comes after it. It’s okay to catch yourself thinking negatively, as long as you change it to something positive.
Please don’t get discouraged if you don’t notice a change right away. This is a process that takes time and patience.
Think of your negative self-talk as a well-worn path. You’ve walked it many times, and you know the way like the back of your hand. When you replace negative self-talk with positivity, you are pioneering a new path. You are cutting away brush and fighting for every inch. With persistence, your new path will become easier and the old path will grow up!
Repeating positive affirmations can help curve your tendency towards negativity. Again, it’s important to stay consistent when practicing positive self-talk. You have the potential to change your mood and the physical makeup of your brain!
Determine the Trigger
Once you have practiced confronting the thought, you can start to pinpoint the trigger. Keep in mind that triggers come in many forms, and sometimes are caused by big events that have happened in your life.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with finding your triggers, contact a licensed therapist to help you navigate these feelings. Sometimes negative self-talk can originate from childhood trauma, PTSD, and other trauma-based experiences.
Simple things can trigger the effects of negative self-talk, as well. Take a personal inventory of the past few weeks and notice if anything has happened to bruise your ego. Maybe you had a falling out with a friend or didn’t get that promotion at work.
Feelings feed your self-talk. Once you’ve determined your trigger, start working on building positivity around that trigger. Understanding why you’re experiencing the effects of negative self-talk will eventually allow you to gain control of your thoughts in the long run.
If all of this seems overwhelming to you, know that you aren’t alone. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a deep breath. Watch this video if you can’t bring yourself to focus on the negative thought. Breathe in and out with the shapes for as long as you need.
Eventually, you will feel your body start to relax. You can revisit your thoughts when you feel ready. Your breath is a physiological cheat code to reduce anxiety. It is a tool you always have with you, so use it.
Bettering yourself and breaking negative habits can be difficult. You may find that working on your negative self-talk brings up other emotions or thoughts. This is totally normal, and don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional to help you work through this experience.
With time, you can conquer anything!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Natasha is the founder of Natasha Eckelbarger Writing. She uses her years of marketing and mental health experience to help professionals in the mental health field skyrocket their business through strategic content. Natasha is passionate about helping mental health professionals spread awareness about the importance of psychological well-being. You can find her on her site, or on LinkedIn.