Negative thinking and self-talk can have a massive impact on mental health. Continuously thinking negatively can lead to anxiety, poor self-image, and depression. Breaking negative thinking and self-talk is a process that takes time and effort, but it is an essential step in improving mental health. By developing more positive thinking patterns, individuals can feel more empowered and better manage their mental health conditions.
This article will cover negative self-talk, how to break the cycle of negative thinking, the importance of positive thinking, and the link between negative thoughts and mental health.
What is Self-Talk?
Self-talk is the ongoing internal dialogue that combines conscious thoughts with ingrained beliefs and biases. It is an inner voice that individuals may not be aware of, but it is constantly present throughout the day. Self-talk can be categorized into two different types: negative and positive.
Negative self-talk is individuals’ internal dialogue about themselves that is critical, self-defeating, and negative. These thoughts can be directed toward a person’s personality traits, physical appearance, abilities, and overall worth. Negative self-talk can be subtle or explicit and occur consciously or unconsciously.
Positive self-talk is the internal dialogue that is supportive, constructive, and positive. It is an inner voice that encourages and motivates individuals, leading to improved self-esteem, confidence, and mental health.
Effects of Negative Self-Talk
Knowing what negative self-talk, also called cognitive distortions, sounds like in your head is important to understanding how to break the habit. Different types of negative thinking can look different for everyone and may not be as extreme as you think. Some examples of negative self-talk are:
- Low Self-Esteem: Negative self-talk can erode an individual’s self-esteem, causing them to feel inadequate, worthless, and insecure. This can make them less confident in their abilities, and they may struggle to pursue their goals and dreams.
- Depression and Anxiety: These negative emotions can be debilitating and affect an individual’s quality of life. This can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, including feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worry. Individuals may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and muscle tension.
- Self-Sabotage: Negative self-talk can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors such as procrastination, avoidance, and self-isolation. This can prevent individuals from achieving their goals and maintaining healthy relationships.
- Impaired Performance: Negative self-talk can affect an individual’s performance in various ways, such as academics, work, and sports. This can create a self-fulfilling prophecy where the individual believes they will fail and subsequently underperform, reinforcing negative thinking about themselves and further encouraging the cycle of negative self-talk.
Examples of Negative Self-Talk
Knowing what negative self-talk sounds like in your head is important to understanding how to break the habit. Different types of negative thinking can look different for everyone and may not be as extreme as you think. Some examples of negative self-talk are:
- All-or-Nothing: This type of negative self-talk involves thinking in extremes, such as “I always fail,” “I’m never good enough,” or “I’m a complete failure.” This type of thinking can limit and prevent individuals from seeing the complexities of a situation.
- Catastrophizing: This is when an individual assumes the worst possible outcome will happen, even if it is unlikely. For example, “If I don’t get this promotion, my career is over,” or “If I mess up this presentation, I’ll be fired.” This type of thinking can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress.
- Personalization: This type of negative self-talk involves taking responsibility for things outside of your control. For example, “It’s all my fault,” or “I’m to blame for everything.” This type of thinking can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.
- Overgeneralization: This is when an individual draws broad and sometimes unrealistic conclusions based on a single event. For example, “I failed this test, so I’m never going to pass this class,” or “I had one bad date, so I’m never going to find love.” This type of thinking can be discouraging and prevent individuals from trying again.
- Mind-Reading: This type of negative self-talk involves assuming what others think or feel without evidence. For example, “They must think I’m stupid,” or “They don’t like me.” This type of thinking can harm relationships and cause individuals to self-isolate.
Breaking the Habit of Negative Thinking
Breaking the habit of negative thinking can be challenging as you rewire your brain to think differently. To break the habit, you must challenge negative self-talk and thinking head-on. Positive thinking is an effective and simple way you can break the cycle of negative thinking. According to research conducted in 2011 and 2019, individuals who practiced positive thinking experienced greater happiness and better physical health outcomes. Positive thinking involves acknowledging negative experiences while focusing on the positive aspects of a situation that can promote self-compassion, self-love, and emotional wellness. While positive thinking is one way to address negative self-talk, here are some other important aspects to understand when breaking the habit.
The first step in breaking the habit of negative thinking is acknowledging it is happening. It’s essential to be aware of when negative thoughts arise and how they make you feel. By recognizing the negative thinking pattern, you can start addressing it head-on. For example, if you say something like “I’m stupid,” you can immediately follow up by saying, “No, I’m not stupid.”
When negative thoughts arise, it’s important to challenge them head-on. Ask yourself whether the thought is true, where it comes from, and whether it serves a purpose. If the thought is not valid or helpful, try to replace it with a more positive one. For example, you can challenge the thoughts of “Why can’t I do this like everyone else?” with thoughts like “I like doing this a certain way because it makes sense to me.”
Mindfulness involves being involved and paying attention to the present moment without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can become more aware of their negative thoughts and learn to let go of those negative feelings. An example of this would be thinking thoughts like “I must look so dumb next to them,” which can then be replaced with thoughts like “I worked hard to get here and deserve to be next to everyone else.”
Practicing gratitude involves focusing on the good things in your life and expressing appreciation for them. By practicing gratitude, individuals can shift their focus away from negative thoughts and develop a more positive outlook on their daily life. When someone is going through a tough time, it’s common to try and put things into perspective by saying things like, “There’s always someone worse off.” While it may be true that others may be going through more difficult situations, using this approach to bully yourself or someone else into thinking positively can actually do more harm than good. It undermines the personal experience and can hinder the healing process.
Surrounding oneself with positive people, books, and media can be helpful. Being exposed to positivity can help shift an individual’s mindset and make it easier to break the habit of negative thinking. Practicing positive thinking and self-talk will also make it easier to break the habit of negative thinking. Switching from negative thoughts to positive thoughts will have a significant impact on improving your mental health. An example of this would be instead of thinking, “I’m a failure,” you can think, “I’m doing the best I can.”
The Link Between Negative Thoughts and Mental Health
As mentioned previously, negative thoughts significantly impact an individual’s mental health and well-being. Research has shown a strong link between negative thoughts and mental health. Negative thinking patterns can contribute to developing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
A study conducted in 2010 found that negative thinking patterns, such as catastrophizing, were associated with increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. Continuing to think negatively will only lead to self-criticism and self-doubt, developing mental health issues, and failing relationships with others.
It is a common misconception that these thoughts may only happen when experiencing mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. However, that is not the case. Negative thinking can impact anyone, so understanding how it can impact your mental health will benefit you when you recognize the negative thoughts.
Mental Health Treatment at Launch Centers
If you or a loved one are experiencing negative thinking or negative self-talk behaviors, contact us to learn how our treatment programs help challenge these thoughts and promote positive thinking.
At Launch Centers in Los Angeles, our holistic mental health and dual diagnosis treatment programs are able to combat substance abuse and mental health conditions. We utilize a comprehensive, individualized, and trauma-informed approach to give our clients the best care possible. Our treatment programs include mental health services, addiction treatment, and PTSD and trauma treatment.