Negative self-talk is something that many people deal with, but there are ways to challenge those negative thoughts. I dealt with negative self-talk all the time when I was struggling with depression and anxiety, but learning to recognize the negative thoughts and change my way of thinking really helped me.
I found an article on the Psych Central website called “Challenging Negative Self-Talk” by Ben Martin, Psy.D. , which lists four types of questions to ask yourself when you are having negative thoughts:
1. Reality testing
- What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
- Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
- Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?
2. Look for alternative explanations
- Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
- What else could this mean?
- If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?
3. Putting it in perspective
- Is this situation as bad as I am making out to be?
- What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
- What is the best thing that could happen?
- What is most likely to happen?
- Is there anything good about this situation?
- Will this matter in five years time?
When you feel anxious, depressed or stressed-out your self-talk is likely to become extreme, you’ll be more likely to expect the worst and focus on the most negative aspects of your situation. So, it’s helpful to try and put things into their proper perspective.
4. Using goal-directed thinking
- Is thinking this way helping me to feel good or to achieve my goals?
- What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
- Is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do it better next time?
I learned about challenging negative self-talk when I was in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) several years ago, and although I don’t remember specifically what I learned to think in order to challenge the thoughts, I know it was very similar to the questions I just listed. It was difficult at first, but I’ve become great at challenging those thoughts! Even if I can’t completely get the thought out of my head, at least now I am able to identify it as a negative thought and I know that what I’m thinking isn’t necessarily true.
Here’s an example: Although this example isn’t typical negative self-talk, it’s similar to thoughts that I occasionally have when it comes to thinking about how other people feel about me. If my boyfriend wasn’t able to come hang out today I may become upset and think, “If he can’t come over today then he doesn’t really care about me.” If I let this thought stay in my head I will become more upset and angry, and I may end up taking it out on my boyfriend. However, if I take a moment to identify the thought as negative, I am able to challenge it. I ask myself something along the lines of, “What is the actual reason why he can’t come over?” I then answer my own question: “He can’t come over because he worked all day and he’s tired and just wants to rest tonight.” Does his reason for not coming over have anything at all to do with me? No! The truth is that he would like to hang out but he’s too tired to. By coming to this realization, although I may still be disappointed that I won’t see him today, I prevent myself from unnecessary sadness and anger and the potential of lashing out at my boyfriend.
Another example: Because of my depression and anxiety, I often feel like I’m “behind” everyone else my age (I’m 25 and in my last semester of college). When thoughts like, “If I hadn’t been depressed, I’d have already graduated from college and moved out on my own by now. I’m such a disappointment to myself!” I then take a step back and think, “Because of my depression, I am a much stronger person than I used to be. I have a great life! I never thought I’d be where I am now, and I’m happy with the direction my life is going. I have a great future ahead of me!”