How to Reverse Negative Self-Talk

Treat yourself with respect, reverse negative self-talk, & transform your life

It's been said many times in a variety of ways: "You are your own worst enemy" or "Your biggest critic is in the mirror". These phrases speak to an unfortunate truth, thinking negatively about oneself can have severe consequences on mental health and truly hinder an individual from reaching their greatest potential. Learn how to recognize, understand, and reverse negative self-talk and take this step to better yourself.

So, what exactly is negative self-talk?

Wellness coach and best-selling author, Elizabeth Scott, MS, defines negative self-talk as "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". While it's normal to have an inner critic occasionally assess your progress and positively motivate oneself, it's very easy to slip into a toxic relationship with this critic.

Negative self-talk can take on many forms and affect every individual to a different degree.

Here are 5 forms of common negative self-talk to help you recognize and stop these thoughts in their tracks before they turn toxic:
young black man looking in mirror negative self-talk

1. Mind Reading. Mind reading occurs when you automatically assume you understand what someone else is thinking without any rational reason or evidence. For example, if your significant other doesn't say "I love you," before hanging up the phone, your mind may immediately rationalize that they're going to break up with you or you did something wrong to make them upset.

2. Magnification. Magnification occurs when you exaggerate your flaws or mistakes to an irrational level. For example, if you receive a bad grade on one test, you may automatically assume you are bound to fail the whole class. Magnification can also assume the form of catastrophizing, or assuming the absolute worst disaster possible. For example, you may think a pain in your arm means you are having a heart attack.

3. Minimization. On the other side of magnification is minimization, or downplaying your own strengths and positive attributes. For example, after receiving praise your mind may think, "Anyone could have done that" or focus on the one mistake that may have been made rather than the vast amount of great work that was completed.

4. Should Statements. Should Statements ultimately place yourself in the wrong no matter the outcome or unpredictable circumstances of the situation. For example, if you miss an important call you may think, "I should have known they were going to call, I'm so stupid for not being prepared".

5. Black and White Thinking. Black and white thinking creates a dichotomy of extremes, or a negative form of an all-or-nothing attitude. For example, one mistake in your mind equals complete failure.

Now that you are equipped with the tools to recognize these instances of negative self-talk, here are 3 suggestions to reverse your habits:

1. Think like a friend. When you catch yourself talking down to yourself, stop and think of how a friend may describe the same situation or how you would respond to a friend if they were in your place. For example, if you say to yourself "My body is too big to wear a bikini," think of how you would respond to the same statement if someone else said it. Your thought process will likely go to reassurance that your friend looks beautiful, it's what's on the inside that counts, and encourage them to wear the bikini. So, why can't you treat yourself with that same positivity?

2. Cross-examine. Stopping your inner critic in its tracks and challenging the negative assertions is a great way to reverse negative self-talk. For example, if you catch yourself thinking "I did so bad on this project, I shouldn't even be in this advanced course," shift your perspective and think, "I may have done worse on this project, but my teacher gave me great feedback on my paper".

3. Active Reset. The active reset is a concrete approach you can apply to every instance of negative self-talk in 5 steps:

  1. Stop and acknowledge
  2. Question
  3. Reframe
  4. Act
  5. Reflect

This process helps you think through each and every thought and hopefully condition your brain to turn any negative into a positive.

If you or a loved one are experiencing severe negative self-talk or its impact on mental health, clinicians in our Counseling & Wellness Centers are here to help.

young asian female reverse negative self-talk self love