Tips for the Day: Negative Self Talk

Negative self talk (NST) is something we all get into. That loop of criticism that seems to rear its ugly head when we fell under pressure, stressed and distressed. So why do we do it and how do we stop?

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Negative self-talk originates from childhood, we’ve heard enough times that we’re no good at something, that we should do this, do that. We’ve watched our caregivers’ model certain behaviours and attitudes and parts of us believe that, these perceptions are truly ours. So strong are these thoughts, feelings and attitudes, that when we challenge them, or have them challenged by others, going against these messages can feel truly awful. We end up feeling bad and punishing ourselves and berating our failures. verbal and non-verbal commands, messages, opinions, judgements and values stay with us throughout life and without exploration, understanding and insight into their origins, we believe them to be our own. Except they often aren’t.

When we connect to negative self-talk we are often replaying the voices of others. Significant others who during our childhood held the ‘rule book.’ These significant others taught us how to think about the world, how to feel about ourselves and others and bequeathed to us their perceptions of life and their perceptions of us growing up. How common is it to hear one grown say to another grown up:

 “…..our little Johnny is great at football but can’t spell to save his life, whilst his sister is no good at sport but brilliant with figures.”  

Whilst there may be a grain of truth in this and at the time, no one was setting out to consciously hurt anyone, the truth of the matter is, these kinds of judgements are subjective and open to debate. However, children cannot debate such things and swallow whole what is said of them, carrying these beliefs (Berne 1968) into adulthood, forming patterns of negative internal dialogue. If left un attended to, negative self-talk can be debilitating, frustrating, constricting and will certainly hamper our abilities and capabilities for authentic growth, development and well-being.  

As we all suffer from some form of NST it is important to go easy on yourself. Note there is nothing to be ashamed of. Accessing the help of a trained professional can quickly produce good enough insight and awareness for you to begin to challenge these narratives when they surface. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get started:

Stop and ask yourself:

  • What are the facts here? Test out the reality of the situation you’re applying the NST to
  • When did I first remember hearing that?
  • Who said it first?
  • What was going on at that time?
  • How did it make me think, feel or act then?
  • What do I think of that now?
  • Is it right for me now?
  • Is it true to my experience?
  • Is it true to my reality?
  • Do I want that in my life now?
  • What am I able to do differently?

Break the cycle, change the record, clean up the chat and take charge of your internal dialogue.  


Nicole Addis

Psychotherapist , Peel Psychological Consultancy

I am an integrative psychotherapist with special interest in relational trauma, PTSD, work related stress. I am trained in a number of modalities and enjoy working with Transactional Analysis as a model for personality, communication and behaviour.