Challenging Negative Self Talk

Sorry it has been so long since I have been able to post on here! After my vacation a few weeks ago, things got very busy here in Dublin! However, I now bring you the third part on Anxiety and Negative Self-Talk. In the previous posts, I discussed the basics behind how Negative Self-Talk and Anxiety work, and the different types of negative self-talk. However, this week I want to explain…

Countering Negative Self-Talk

Once you have identified which of the inner voices you tend to have, you’re probably thinking… “Okay, so what do I do now to get rid of it?” One of the best ways is to counter it with an accurate and healthy statement, in essence “cancelling out” the negative with the positive. Obviously, you get so used to thinking in this negative pattern, that countering it with positive thinking will take some practice, at least at first. Eventually, implementing this countering technique will lead your thinking over time will become more positive on it’s own without effort.

Sometimes countering comes naturally and easily. You are ready and willing to substitute positive, reasonable self-statements for ones that have been causing you anxiety and distress. You’re more than ready to relinquish negative mental habits that aren’t serving you. On the other hand, you may object to the idea of countering and say, “But what if what my Worrier (Critic, Victim, or Perfectionist) says is true? It’s hard for me to believe otherwise.” Or you may say, “How can I substitute positive self-statements for negative ones when I don’t’ really believe them?”

As Bourne (2005) states in his book…

Perhaps you’re strongly attached to some of your negative self-talk. You’ve been telling yourself these things for years and its difficult to give up both the habit and the belief. You’re not someone who’s easily persuaded. If that’s the case, and you want to do something about your negative self-talk, it’s important that you subject it to rational scrutiny. You can weaken the hold of your negative self-statements by exposing them to any of the following Socratic questions, or rational Investigation.

  1. What’s the evidence for this?
  2. Is this always true?
  3. Has this been true in the past?
  4. What are the odds of this really happening (or being true)?
  5. What is the very worst that could happen? What is so bad about that? What would you do if the worst happened?
  6. Are you looking at the whole picture?
  7. Are you being fully objective?

Tips on countering with Positive Statements

Remember, our thoughts are our reality, so by changing our thought process we can change our reality. However, you need to notice the negative self talk to be able to change it. Once you’ve been able to identify the negative self-talk, it can be helpful to write it down, and then write down a positive and more realistic statement to counter it. It is important to keep in mind that it will take doing this over and over before you notice a change in your thinking habit, or before you learn to believe the statements. Think of how many years you have been talking to yourself negatively… it’s going to take awhile to reverse that unhelpful process!

(1) Notice

Notice yourself, “catch yourself in the act.” When you find yourself talking negatively and write it down, go back and see if there are certain situations or events that tend to make your anxiety/negative self-talk worse. This could be situations in which you tend to have panic attacks, are faced with a phobia, after making a mistake, after feeling embarrassed, etc.

(2) Stop

Once you catch yourself in the act, ask yourself the following questions…

  • “What am I telling myself that is making me feel this way?”
  • “Do I really want to do this to myself?”
  • “Do I really want to stay upset?”

If the answer is no, then…

(3) Relax

There is one thing that is guaranteed to stop the anxiety response, and that is relaxation. When we engage in breathing and relaxation, we slow down our breathing; this, in turn, slows down our heart rate and puts the brakes on our anxiety response. Keep in mind that if you are experiencing extreme levels of anxiety, it can take up to 20 minutes to see a reduction in your stress response. For tips on relaxation techniques, check out this article.

(4) Write it down

Like stated above, it really is important to write down the negative thought process. Writing down the process allows you to get it out of your head if you don’t have someone to talk to. It also helps you to full process the situation, and to clarify the statements.

(5) Identify Cognitive Distortions

Identify what cognitive distortions you have found in your negative self-talk pattern.

(6) Answer or Dispute

This would be where you write down what statements you can use to counter your negative self-talk. These counter statements should be rational, positive, and self-supporting. As Bourne (2005) states in his book…

These counterstatements should be worded so that they avoid negatives, are in the present tense, and in the first person. They should also be believable and feel good to you.

There is a great Thought Record Challenge Worksheet available from which helps to guide you through a process similar to that stated above.


What things have you found to help out with using positive thinking, our countering negative self-talk? Let’s hear your input!!

Works Cited

Information from this post is from the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook – 4th edition

  • Bourne, E. J. (2005). The anxiety & phobia workbook. (4th Ed ed.). Oakland: New Harbinger Pubns Inc.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Challenging Negative Self-Talk
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