Negative Self-Talk: What It Is and How To Combat It

This article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

We all have an internal dialogue going on as we go about our day-to-day life. You might not be paying attention to it, but it’s happening all the time.

Negative Self-Talk: What It Is and How To Combat It

This inner voice is known as self-talk, and it doesn’t always have nice things to say. If you’ve ever failed at a task and called yourself an idiot or a loser, you’ve experienced negative self-talk in action.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at negative self-talk to find out what exactly it is, what effects it has on you, and how you can keep it from hurting your life.

What Is Negative Self-Talk?

You could call it your inner critic. It’s that little voice in your head that tells you things like:

  • “I’m not good enough”
  • “I sound stupid”
  • “I should just give up”

Everyone experiences negative self-talk – even people who you wouldn’t imagine. Celebrities, professional athletes, and high-level executives all have moments when they tell themselves negative things, sometimes in an attempt to do a better job at what they do.

Whether you’re dealing with stress at work, learning to play an instrument, or trying to find a new apartment, there will be times when negative self-talk pops up and says something awful.

There are a number of types of negative self-talk, including:

  • Filtering: When you focus on the negative aspects of a situation and ignore any positive aspects that might be there
  • Over-Generalizing: When you take one negative experience and assume that this will “always” be the way things are, or that things will “never” get better
  • Personalizing: When you put the blame on yourself for something bad happening, even when there’s no evidence to prove it
  • Catastrophizing: When you tell yourself that the worst possible scenario is happening or going to happen
  • Minimizing: When you don’t believe in your own worth, strengths, or positive attributes
  • Magnifying: When you tell yourself something is a really big deal when it’s not such a big deal at all
  • Polarizing: When you think in terms of “all or nothing”

How Does Negative Self-Talk Affect Us?

It may come as no surprise that negative self-talk has some pretty negative effects on us and our lives in general. Let’s look at some common effects of letting our inner critic get out of control.


If you’re constantly telling yourself negative things, day-to-day tasks can start to appear more difficult than they actually are. That perceived difficulty can increase our stress levels significantly, making us feel overloaded with challenges to face.

Mental Health Issues

Negative self-talk can lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. A perception that you can never get things right can turn into feelings of hopelessness and despair very quickly.

Low Self-Esteem

Our inner critic can say some pretty hateful things, and over time these thoughts can become habitual. We might start to have a very poor self-image and view ourselves as incapable or unworthy of good things.

Difficulty Achieving Goals

It’s pretty hard to feel motivated when you’ve got someone telling you that you’re never going to succeed. That decrease in motivation can cause some people to stop striving for their goals in life, and without trying, reaching those goals becomes unlikely.

Relationship Problems

It’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love themselves. A person who is experiencing negative self-talk may come across to their partner as too needy or insecure. In addition, their partner may feel drained being around constant negativity.

6 Ways To Combat Negative Self-Talk

Now that you’ve seen what an impact negative self-talk can have on our lives, you might want to know how to stop it. Here are 6 proven techniques for how to combat negative self-talk.

1. Catch Your Inner Critic in the Act

When you notice that you’re engaging in negative self-talk, simply acknowledge that you’ve heard it. This brings the negative statement out into the light, so to speak, keeping it from lurking in the background and causing damage to your life.

2. Challenge the Negative Statement

Step back from the negative statement and cross-examine it. Do you really “always fail”, or is that an over-generalization? Next, re-word the statement to be more neutral, for example, “I didn’t pass my test, but I might have better results if I try again”.

3. Treat Yourself Like a Friend Would

If you said that negative statement out loud in front of a friend, how do you think they’d react? Most likely, your friend would point out that what you’re saying is unfair to yourself, and they’d kindly guide you towards viewing things in a more positive light.

4. Get Someone’s Outside Perspective

Speaking to someone about your negative thoughts can help you to see things from another perspective. Sit down and have a chat with a friend or family member, or get connected with a licensed therapist through BetterHelp online therapy.  

5. Remember That Thoughts Can Be Inaccurate

Doctor of Psychology Michael Stein reminds us that thoughts are not facts. Just because your mind is telling you something doesn’t mean that you should trust that thought wholeheartedly. “There is a healthier way to approach your mind:” he says, “don’t take it too seriously”.

6. Consciously Practice Positive Self-Talk

It can be difficult to shift your inner dialogue from negative to positive, but it is certainly possible. It just takes practice. A recent study showed that the way we speak to ourselves has a significant impact on our performance. That means you’ll likely see improvements in your life when you practice positive self-talk.


Negative self-talk is something that everyone experiences, but if left unchecked it can badly impact our lives. Practicing the techniques in this article may help you develop more positive self-talk habits over time.