Negative self-talk is a common phenomenon that can have a significant impact on our mental well-being. It’s the internal dialogue we have with ourselves, often characterized by self-criticism, self-doubt, and negative interpretations of our experiences. We’ve been talking a lot about imposter syndrome and I’ve mentioned negative self-talk as one of the characteristics.
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The Impact of Negative Self-Talk on Mental Well-being
When we engage in self-critical thoughts and constantly put ourselves down, it can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Negative self-talk can also fuel imposter syndrome because it causes you to doubt your accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Imposter syndrome often stems from comparing oneself to others and feeling inadequate in comparison. The constant self-doubt and fear of being “found out” can create a significant amount of stress and anxiety. It can hinder personal and professional growth, as you may avoid taking on new challenges or pursuing opportunities due to your fear of failure or being perceived as incompetent.
Identifying Negative Thought Patterns
To overcome negative self-talk, you have to first be able to identify and become aware of the negative thought patterns that contribute to these destructive internal dialogues. By recognizing these patterns, we can challenge their validity and replace them with more positive and constructive thoughts.
One common negative thought pattern is all-or-nothing thinking, where people see things in black and white. They perceive any performance that falls short of perfection as a total failure. This type of thinking is unrealistic and can lead to a constant sense of disappointment and self-criticism. We all make mistakes and occasionally screw up. If you have all-or-nothing thinking, every mistake equals a failure. It feeds your imposter syndrome because you’re proving the negative thoughts right.
Overgeneralization involves seeing a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. This type of thinking can lead to a pessimistic outlook and hinder you from recognizing your strengths and potential for growth. One mistake doesn’t make a pattern.
However, as someone who is neurodivergent, you might see a pattern in your behavior that you don’t like (running late, unable to plan ahead, etc). If you overgeneralize this, you’ll convince yourself that you can never change. Your mindset will be fixed and you won’t be able to move past it.
The mental filter is when individuals selectively focus on negative details and dwell on them, disregarding any positive aspects of a situation. This type of thinking can distort one's perception of reality and contribute to feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Whew – this is a biggie. Here’s an example of how this might appear in your life. You have 10 tasks to accomplish today, among them, making cookies for your kid’s party at school, talking to 3 clients, and doing a couple loads of laundry. You get most of your list done, but because you didn’t get the laundry done, and your kid was planning on wearing his or her favorite socks tomorrow, you dwell on that. You ignore that you made delicious cookies or that you nailed your client meetings.
Disqualifying the Positive
Disqualifying the positive involves rejecting positive experiences by dismissing them as insignificant or invalid. This pattern of thinking reinforces negative beliefs and prevents individuals from acknowledging their accomplishments and strengths.
Going back to the example above, you dismiss making those cookies—they’re only cookies after all—because your kid doesn’t have his/her favorite socks. You don’t acknowledge the good. You dismiss it as not as important.
Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions is when you make negative interpretations or assumptions without sufficient evidence. This can include mind-reading, assuming that someone is reacting negatively to you without any confirmation, or fortune-telling, predicting negative outcomes without any basis. If you struggle with Rejection Sensitivity, you probably do this a lot. You assume that the people you’re talking to think you’re dumb or untalented—even though they haven’t actually said or done anything to indicate that.
Should statements involve using rigid and unrealistic rules to evaluate oneself or others. This type of thinking can lead to feelings of guilt, frustration, and resentment when expectations are not met.
These statements tend to work in conjunction with our mental filter and disqualifying the positive. We tell ourselves we should have planned better or we should have had more time—we should have been able to get everything done. And since we didn’t, we’re a failure.
By becoming aware of these negative thought patterns, you can start challenging their validity and replacing them with more positive and constructive thoughts.
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Overcoming Negative Self-Talk: Strategies for Change
Once you have identified your negative thought patterns, you can begin implementing strategies to overcome negative self-talk and cultivate a more positive and empowering internal dialogue. Here are some effective strategies to help you change the narrative in your head:
Cognitive restructuring is a technique commonly used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to challenge and replace negative thought patterns with more realistic and positive ones. This involves examining the evidence for and against negative thoughts, identifying cognitive distortions, and reframing them with more balanced and objective perspectives.
It seems more complicated than it has to be. You need to be able to step back and change the statements you’re making to yourself. You have to practice looking at situations more objectively, so you can have a realistic picture of your life and events. It’s really hard to do this in the moment, however, so you need to take time to reflect and plan for when similar situations occur.
Thought stopping is a technique that involves interrupting negative thought patterns by mentally or physically saying “stop” to yourself when a negative thought arises. This interrupts the automatic thought process and allows you to consciously choose a more positive and constructive thought.
Again, that negative voice tends to be so persistent that you might not even recognize it sometimes. It’s just part of who you are. That’s why I recommend keeping a journal and each night (or morning) reflect on the day’s events and record the things you said to yourself. Writing down the negative messages will help you recognize them next time the pop up and then you can stop them.
Practicing self-compassion involves treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, particularly in moments of self-doubt or failure. By cultivating self-compassion, you can counteract the negative self-talk and develop a more nurturing and supportive internal dialogue. Create phrases or statements that will nurture your confidence and well-being. Use words that will resonate with you and make you feel better.
It can be helpful to seek support from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals when working to overcome negative self-talk. Sharing experiences and receiving validation and encouragement from others can provide a sense of perspective and foster growth and resilience. Sometimes hearing an outside perspective can help you see your accomplishments in a new light.
It is important to acknowledge and embrace neurodiversity when exploring negative self-talk and mental well-being. Neurodiversity recognizes and celebrates the natural variations in how people think, process information, and experience the world. It emphasizes that neurodivergent people have unique strengths and perspectives that should be valued and respected.
So often, we look at neurodiversity through the lens of the challenges we face. And obviously, it doesn’t help that most neurodivergent traits are tied to “disorders.” The thing to realize is that we all can bring something special and amazing to the table. The fact that you bring something unusual or out of the ordinary is equally amazing.
Negative self-talk can be particularly challenging for neurodivergent people because they often face additional societal pressures and stigmas. Understanding and embracing neurodiversity can help create a more inclusive and supportive environment where everyone can thrive and feel accepted.
Overcoming negative self-talk is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and a commitment to personal growth. As much as I’d like to give you a quick fix, it doesn’t exist. You need to take time to reflect on how you talk to yourself before any changes can happen. With time and practice, it is possible to develop a more empowering and nurturing internal dialogue.