Psychotherapy and Counseling in New York City
Transforming Possibilities

Areas of Expertise
Transforming Possibilities

Susan Dowell, LCSW

Susan Dowell, LCSW

Copyright© 2017 Susan H. Dowell
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How to Silence Your Negative Self Talk

Negative Self Talk is that annoying voice inside your head that criticizes you, frustrates you and reminds you of your limitations and mistakes and sometimes even scares you with negative predictions. It is your voice, and all too often, you use it to taunt yourself.

Learning how to support your capacity for resiliency, confidence, reflection and perseverance, even when you make a serious mistake, is an essential part of being successful in the real world.

Our goal is to help you to find ways to boost your ability to effectively self-reflect and to make self-supporting choices when you are addressing those important daily challenges in your life. These skills are essential for successfully reevaluating your mind and effectively thinking through how to resolve them.

But remember, this frame of mind involves shifting your attention away from the compelling drumbeat of self-criticism and accepting that you can and will learn from your mistakes, and recognizing that calling yourself belittling names will not help you think something through. It will only destabilize your clarity of thought and sometimes even leave you feeling more helpless.

Self-criticism does not help and it often feels shaming but a self critique, on the other hand, can enhance your ability to make an educated assessment of the different strategies you can utilize to help yourself think through how to approach a problem more effectively.

Think of your fundamental challenges as a small child. You went from being helpless and dependent as that child, to gradually focusing on mastering the frequent challenges as you groomed yourself to enter into the grown-up world. Everything started as brand new. You mastered how to walk and balance yourself. You worked at making sense of the sounds you heard from the people around you, and finally understood them as words. You looked at strange forms on a blackboard and soon learned how to read them and write them in your own notebook.

You learned to recognize people and name them. You taught yourself how to make sounds and turn them into words that other people could understand. And you learned how to hold a fork, use a pen, and how to transform your scribble into ideas on a page. In those early years, you began with a persistent and vibrant eagerness to master challenges and expand your learning and your skills.

With all this foundational achievements, why is it then, that some of us can be so hard on ourselves and talk to ourselves so negatively. What is the origin of this Negative Self Talk? And why does it happen so often?

Unfortunately, in some family environments, impatience, anger and criticism overshadow our natural strivings towards developing patience, mastery and self-respect. And if we grow up in that kind of environment, we may often find that we tend to habitually belittle ourselves. This is where we may have to do some personal work on ourselves.

But first we must recognize and emphasize that Negative Self-Talk, stimulates and exaggerates that gnawing expectation of disappointment and failure.

The Mayo Clinic offers us a valuable format for understanding the power of this kind of negative thinking.

As we discuss how they identify four types of Negative Self-Talk, please take note of how this may apply uniquely to you, We are including examples, so that it will be easier for you to connect it to your personal experience.

How to Identify Negative Thinking. If you are not sure just how your Self-Talk became so negative, contemplate the following examples of negative thinking and see how they might apply to you. Recognizing the language of negative self talk is the first step toward making a change:

  • Filtering. Do you amplify negative aspects of a situation, and filter out the positive ones? For example, your boss has been very complimentary towards your work for the past few months. But you made a small error that he brought to your attention in a recent presentation and you have now overlooked all the positive things he said to you and focus on feeling criticized
  • .
  • Personalizing. If something problematic occurs, you reflexively point the finger at yourself. For example, you specifically asked your assistant to print out the latest copy of a report you gave her, and she mistakenly printed the draft copy instead. You assume the real reason is that she resents you for getting your promotion.
  • Catastrophizing. You notice that you frequently anticipate that the worst will always happen to you. For example, last week there was an accident on the train line you usually take to work, and you were delayed by 45 minutes. That put you a little behind schedule for your daily meetings. And you worried all day that your colleagues would be angry at you and use that opportunity to complain to you about other times you were late.
  • Polarizing. You see things as either good or problematic or even dumb. No in-betweens. You regularly tell yourself that you have to do a project just right or you have let everyone down, and you worry about whether you will alienate people.
An exercise for your consideration.

Your emotions influence how you think. They filter what you see. They impact on how you remember things and how you perceive your present challenges. But emotions are states of mind. They do NOT have to be your reality!

You can use your experiences and feelings of success as a resource to change this. Let a past successful experience come to mind, one where you felt especially pleased with how you had proceeded. Bring the scene into the spotlight of your awareness, with as much detail as possible.

As you do this, focus on the positive feelings that were part of that experience. It could be for example, the feeling of confidence, or pride, or pleasure. Now, imagine that you're are back in that experience and concentrate on viscerally remembering the bodily sense of this positive feeling. What was your breathing like, your posture, your eye gaze, your energy?

Imagine you have a very special dial in your hands, one that you can move to gradually increase this positive feeling, a little bit at a time.

Notice what you feel like as you do this. Stay with this feeling for a few minutes. Walk around the room, and focus on keeping aware of this feeling. Imagine yourself in various different settings, bringing those feelings with you. Keep breathing in the same way. No words. Just get used to bringing this feeling with yourself in the present setting.

Do this exercise regularly and notice how it becomes easier and easier to bring back these positive feelings into more challenging settings. Then, do this exercise before you go into a meeting at work. Take note of what you discover and you'll be pleased to discover how many different ways this can be helpful.

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission."

Susan Dowell, LCSW. Copyright 2017