Warning Signs of Negative Self-Talk

leaning-on-the-wall-828790-mNegative Self-Talk Impacts Our Mood

Our negative automatic thoughts can impact our mood and the way that we feel about ourselves and others. Often, negative self talk results in shaming ourself or others, which leads to further disconnection and lack of motivation. Shaming into action really doesn’t work. Next time you’re having all or nothing thoughts such as the following in this article, stop and recognize them, then try responding with self-compassion instead. For example, if you have a  thought such as: “I should have remembered to send her a birthday card, I’m such a bad friend.” You can respond with compassion by saying, “I did forget to send my friend a birthday card. Our relationship is important to me and I also have had a lot on my mind lately. I’ll give her a call and see how her day was.” You can also acknowledge your painful feelings without adding the shame. For example, “I’m disappointed that I forgot and she’s important to me so I’ll give her a call.” Read the following article to help recognize your automatic negative self talk when it arises. Then practice checking in with your feelings and responding with self-compassion.


Take Home Tips for Clients: Seven Warning Signs of Negative Automatic Thoughts, or Self-Talk



1. They are short, snappy, and spontaneous, as in, “I’m going to die,” “I look like an idiot,” “I’ll be just like my father,” or even more abbreviated phrases, such as, “Oh no!” Automatic thoughts can be positive, but people tend not to seek help in those cases.


2. They may be overgeneralizations, as in “I’ll never amount to anything,” or “Nobody can help me,” so they can include absolutes, such as:

  • Always
  • Never
  • Everybody
  • Nobody
  • Everyone
  • No one
  • Anything
  • Everything

These extreme words usually make the thought patently false, as Rodney Dangerfield shows. “I told my psychiatrist everyone hates me. He said I was ridiculous: Everyone hasn’t met you yet.”


3. Automatic thoughts may use shouldmust, or ought, terms which often provoke guilt trips, as in “I should have visited my father in the nursing home more often when I had the chance,” or “I must do better.” Albert Ellis warns against this self-flagellation: “Don’t shouldon yourself.” And many therapists note, “Should and never are two words you should never use.”


4. Automatic thoughts are almost always accepted when they occur, even though they are usually irrational. Hours later, or in therapy, or when filling out a thought record, however, the fear of getting expelled because you slept through a final exam seems much less plausible.

5. Automatic thoughts can breed more automatic thoughts, letting hyperactive fear turn a forgotten blood pressure pill into an imminent funeral, or a single low-flying plane into the sequel to 9/11. A chain of thoughts leading to disaster can be a warning sign for automatic thoughts.


6. Automatic thoughts are usually related to the fears and standards of the thinker. Thus a woman who was brought up to be a people pleaser may have automatic thoughts beginning with the birthday card she forgot to send, or the meatloaf she feels was not good enough for her guests. The consequence of these thoughts might have the theme of disappointing people, and losing their friendship.


7. A strong feeling that seems unrelated to anything in the environment, or is out of proportion to the situation, may signal automatic thoughts. Perhaps the stranger you just saw reminds you subconsciously of the neighborhood bully from your childhood, and you are feeling helpless and angry.


This article originally appeared in The Carlat Behavioral Health Report


Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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