Negative Self-Talk: 4 CBT Strategies To Overcome Harmful Internal Dialogues

Are you always harsh on yourself? Do you berate yourself for minor mistakes, and lose sleep pondering the repercussions of inflated setbacks?

In other words, are you your own worst critic?

With the daily struggles life brings, your inner voice – tinged with negative self-talk – may get the best of you, and start to take over. As it creeps in, it can cause hateful and hurtful thoughts – and ultimately, make you doubt your abilities, strengths, and sense of self.

Such internal negativity can severely limit and inhibit your daily life, and ultimately leave emotional and mental damage. So, in an effort to help you tackle that negative inner monologue, we have four steps to help you silence that pessimistic voice and help you build yourself up.

Here’s what to do the next time your inner critic starts lashing out:

1. First, familiarize yourself with your most critical internal monologue

The first step to overcoming any internal critique is to recognize it. “You might want to first start by asking yourself where your inner critic is coming from and why it is acting up right now,” suggests Dr. Terri Bacow, a clinical psychologist in New York City. “If you review your family history and life experiences and recent stressors, you might get a glimmer of insight as to why you are being so hard on yourself.”

Taking the time to slow down and find where the source of the criticism is coming from allows you to not only acknowledge it, but be more conscious about what situations you put yourself in.

“Once you have a sense of what might be going on for you, feel free to use a variety of coping strategies to help yourself feel better,” adds Dr. Bacow. A great exercise to complete every time those negative thoughts or voices enter your head is to write down what was going on or what sparked those thoughts. Let your emotions guide you to better understand what is going on in your life.

Bacow continues, “Imagine your inner critic is a person. Give it a name. It can be helpful to come up with a name of something you actively dislike.” In other words? Talk back to your inner critic! “You can be an advocate for yourself by putting the critic on the stand.  Using what Cognitive Behavioral Therapists call cognitive restructuring, consider whether you have any evidence supporting these self-critical thoughts.”

2. Ask yourself whether negative thoughts are accurate

As Dr. Bacow says, “One strategy is to realize that self-critical thoughts are just beliefs, not facts, and thus can be argued with and contradicted.”

Put your stream of negative thoughts on the stand: Think of yourself as a lawyer, scientist, or detective, and ask yourself if there are different interpretations about yourself or your behavior that are more accurate.

Then, “erase the critical thought and replace it with something that is more neutral and thus more balanced and accurate.”

When you allow yourself the time and patience to examine negative thoughts and question their validity, you’re rebuilding the confidence to tackle your inner negative voice, head-on.

3. Talk back to unnecessarily negative thoughts

Standing up to your inner negative voice is the best way to take away its power. Once you’ve acknowledged it and been patient with it, banish it!

This doesn’t have to be done with more harsh thoughts or ideas – but rather, with a gentle and calm touch. As Dr. Bacow says, “Observe these critical thoughts with curiosity and do not try to challenge or control them. Place each self-critical thought in a box on a conveyor belt and watch the boxes pass by.  Or place each thought on a leaf going down a stream or on a cloud passing by in the sky.”

Pushing back against these negative thoughts will allow you to respectfully and politely take back your power, and harness your own life into what you want it to be.

4. Replace the critic with self-compassion

The best way to combat a critical inner voice is to replace it with a positive inner voice. This voice should become your ally, one that acknowledges the positive attributes and aspects of your life. Regardless of what your previous inner voice told you, you have so much to offer – and this new voice should focus on that!

The best way to retrain your brain to accept your new voice is practice. As Dr. Bacow says, “The most important thing is to try a coping method, even for a few minutes.” Working with a therapist is helpful for learning what mechanisms work for you.

Dr. Bacow continues, “You will feel better knowing there is something concrete that you can try. Self-criticism is very common; however, it does not have to persist.  You might even find that you do not feel down on yourself for very long!”

Channeling negative energy into a more positive conversation instead allows you to focus on your strengths and weaknesses more objectively, and ultimately create room for beneficial growth.