Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Does Your Inner Voice Bring You Down?

Three steps to quieting your chatty mind.

Key points

  • Most people continually chat away in their minds, accepting their own opinions as facts and their beliefs as gospel.
  • The Stoic philosophers taught that a person's emotional reactions arise from how they interpret life events, not from the events themselves.
  • Countering self-statements or acceptance can help one manage disturbing thoughts.
Source: geralt/Pixabay

What do you say to yourself when no one else is listening? Do you talk sense to yourself, using your inner speech to prepare for the challenges of the day? Or does your self-talk bring you down? Or perhaps you are reluctant to admit that you talk to yourself, taking it as a sign of disturbed behavior (it’s only disturbed behavior if you attribute the source of your inner voice to an external source, as in “hearing voices.”)

We all talk to ourselves, chatting away in an echo chamber of our minds. In these private conversations we have with ourselves when no one else is listening, we act like a juror in our own personal courtroom, passing judgment on ourselves and others, dispensing a lopsided concept of justice without calling any witnesses, or critically examining the facts at hand, or offering any countering arguments. It’s been said that the hardest thing for people to do is to disagree with themselves. We just accept our opinions as facts, our beliefs as gospel, taking at face value what we think and believe.

Self-talk can be a useful tool in solving problems, rehearsing future actions, sorting through life choices and reviewing the events of the day, and preparing for the next. But many of us have a chatty mind that doesn’t know when to shut up and that dominates our headspace, jabbing us with self-directed barbs, put-downs, doubts, and curse words not fit for the saltiest of sailors.

Are you struggling with inner voices spouting put-downs, self-recriminations, and self-doubts that keep you stuck in a mental quagmire? I believe that none of us is born with a negative voice pounding away in our heads. If you were fortunate to have been raised in a secure, loving, and supportive family, you may find it quite natural to practice self-acceptance and self-compassion, treating your mistakes and disappointments as pinpricks rather than piercing blows to your self-esteem. But if you never felt wanted, loved, or valued, you may have come to internalize the negative voices of others, replaying them in your head like an old, timeworn script, or a kind of corrupt brain code.

If you have a chatty mind that continually brings you down, there are steps you can take to quiet the inner naysayer in your mind. It may also help to speak to a therapist to quell those nasty voices in your head. Here are some steps you may find helpful to calm your chatty mind:

1. Hold a conversation with yourself.

When a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate the evidence. Do the facts at hand support the troubling thought? Or do they challenge its accuracy or validity? Might the thought or belief be exaggerated, distorted, one-sided, or unfair to yourself? Are you holding yourself to a different standard than you would apply to someone else? Are you absolutely convinced (really convinced without a sliver of doubt) that what you are saying to yourself is the only possible way to think? Thinking is easy, but rethinking is hard. And one of the hardest things about rethinking is coming up with an alternative way of thinking about things. But because something is hard doesn’t put it beyond reach.

2. Talk sense to yourself.

Substitute rational countering statements whenever a negative thought bounces around in your head, especially thoughts that trigger negative emotional reactions such as depression, anger, anxiety, worry, or guilt. The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome taught that our emotional reactions arise from how we interpret life events, not from the events themselves.

If someone treats you disrespectfully, you may feel angry or just let it go without getting peeved, putting it down as just another example of how people can sometimes be insensitive or unfair. Your reaction depends on how you size up the situation, not the situation itself. If you spill the coffee carelessly, you can mutter a few choice words under your breath and let it go at that, while reaching for a paper towel to clean up the mess. On the other hand, I recall the case of one therapy patient describing his reaction to a similar situation in which he berated himself as a clumsy idiot who is always screwing up and always will screw up.

In therapy, we devise countering self-statements (counters) to negative thoughts individualized to the particular person. What might work for you (saying “I’ve got this” or “I’ve been through this before and can get through it again”) might fall flat with another. Repeat a countering statement two, three, or more times to yourself, silently, or perhaps aloud if no one else is within earshot. Get in the habit of talking back to yourself, calmly and rationally, giving offending thoughts the boot.

3. Just let it be.

You don’t need to fight off a disturbing thought to lessen its emotional impact. You can adopt an attitude of acceptance, allowing a negative thought to just pass through your awareness without taking it to heart. A thought is but a passing mental experience, having no power over you other than the power you imbue to it. It is not cancer, or a stroke, or a hundred other life crises outside your control. While it's true you don't have direct control over the thoughts that pop into your mind, you do have control over how you respond to them.

Picture in your mind’s eye the disturbing thought as being like a leaf floating down a river. Picture it as it floats across your consciousness and is carried away by the current. As it floats by, direct your attention to something more useful, like thinking about that project in the den you’ve been putting off, organizing your contact list, or doing just about anything to redirect your attention away from the ramble of inner thoughts. Or to paraphrase the words of the Fab Four, we can voice words of wisdom to ourselves by saying, let it be.

You shouldn’t waste mental energy trying to control the passing contents of your mind, as futile as that might be. What you can control is how you respond to your thoughts. You can either let them push your emotional buttons or just pass through. You can let disturbing thoughts go on their way or give them a gentle nudge out the door. Or replace them with sensible alternatives.

In sum, we can talk ourselves silly or talk ourselves sane. Other entries in the Minute Therapist blog explore how sane self-talk helps us cope with disturbing emotional states, such as fears, anxiety, guilt, anger, and depression. It only takes a minute, less really, to change a troubling thought into a sensible thought. I invite you to see how the other entries in the Minute Therapist blog may be helpful. Working with a therapist, especially a cognitive behavior therapist, may also help you better understand your own thought triggers and how to rethink them.

General Disclaimer: The content here and in other blog posts on the Minute Therapist is intended for informational purposes only and not for diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of mental health disorders. If you are concerned about your emotional well-being or experiencing any significant mental health problems, I encourage you to consult a licensed mental health professional in your area for a thorough evaluation.

(c) 2022 Jeffrey S. Nevid

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Jeffrey S. Nevid, Ph.D., ABPP
More from Psychology Today