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How to Quiet Our Negative Self-Talk

Why did self-talk, an evolutionarily adaptive trait, get turned on its head?

Key points

  • Self-talk is powerful; you can transform yours to spark positivity and healing.
  • Negative self-beliefs stem from early experiences and represent our deepest fears about ourselves and others.
  • Reparenting is an evidence-based strategy that offers practical ways to heal your inner child.
  • Adopt the self-statements of the securely attached, and you'll see shifts in your self-talk and your life.
PeopleImages / GettyImages
How Negative Self-Talk Wreaks Havoc on Our Lives.
Source: PeopleImages / GettyImages

We all talk to ourselves. Self-talk is what separates us from other species and leads us to the top of the food chain. Yet, it also contributes to self-sabotage, imposter syndrome, and beliefs that we aren't worthy of good outcomes in our lives.

Almost every patient who comes to me in my private practice is struggling with some type of negative self-belief. They struggle with poor self-image and low self-worth and think that their ideal self is likely to go unrealized in their lifetime. These deep-seated, strongly held negative beliefs can usually be traced back to their early childhood experiences and represent their greatest fears about how others might see them. What’s even more challenging is that these negative self-beliefs act as self-fulfilling prophecies: We’re convinced that we see ourselves accurately, and the rigidity of those self-perceptions gets in the way of healthy relationships, satisfying connections, and successful goal pursuits.

Our minds are naturally inclined to use simplified strategies to conserve mental energy and reduce cognitive load. In many ways, this is adaptive and necessary (for example, when we have to make decisions without time to analyze the nitty-gritty), but this cognitive miserliness can lead to biases and errors in our thoughts and actions. This is why our attachment experiences have such a profound impact on us as we grow: The stories we learn from our caregivers become the simplified strategies we use to see the world and ourselves. They become shortcuts to our self-concept that are hard to shake for two reasons. The first is because they’re so readily accessible. We are likely to quickly classify ourselves as being less capable, less worthy, or less lovable than others just because these thoughts have been with us and percolating for some time.

The second reason has to do with the brain’s self-confirmation bias. Going back to that cognitive miserliness, our brains prefer confirming an existing belief—even when it’s negative—to create a new one, so we are less likely to entertain a new idea or a new action that will change how we think about ourselves. We may even unconsciously seek evidence to cement these existing unproductive beliefs further. The influence of our self-concept goes beyond how we think about ourselves and impacts how we relate to others.

People with insecure attachment styles and, relatedly, negative self-concepts develop problematic attachment scripts, which are rigid, inflexible rules about how they should respond to different situations and people in their lives. When these scripts are followed, they create the disappointing results they’ve come to expect.

For example, if your self-beliefs tell you that you are unlovable, unworthy, and incapable, you may believe that no one can take care of your needs or that you don’t deserve good things in life. You may say, “I’m terrible at relationships, so why bother?” and subconsciously activate a script of detachment where you immerse yourself in solitude, work, or other ways of achieving a self-fulfilling prophecy. You may go from job to job unable to find a stable working environment or develop connections with coworkers. Although you may feel lonely, you might vehemently deny the need for relationships because you are so busy with work or other solo activities. Because you feel unwelcome or that you don’t fit in with the group, you may avoid family or other social gatherings.

Or you may have a gnawing, persistent worry that your loved ones don’t care about you. You may have subconsciously activated a script of dependency where you may indiscriminately cling to any relationships, come on too strong, or ask for repeated reassurances that exhaust the people in your life with your emotional neediness. You may be on high alert to signs that others are displeased or detaching from you and engage in extreme people-pleasing behaviors to gain acceptance. This creates a vicious cycle where your self-esteem is attached to how others respond to you. Your self-perception can turn on a dime and cause you to feel a lack of control. You may have difficulty making decisions without input from other people and feel stressed or scared when you’re alone for too long. You can find yourself obsessing over ways to avoid being hurt or rejected and running hot and cold with loved ones, and these erratic behaviors can provoke the very reactions from others that you most fear. It’s a classic cycle of self-sabotage that strengthens your negative self-beliefs and makes it even more challenging for you to heal your attachment wounds.

So what do you do if you find yourself struggling with these persistent negative self-beliefs, and how can we take advantage of the adaptive aspects of self-talk while healing those aspects that cause dark thoughts and unhealthy coping?

In my recent TEDx talk, I discuss how to transform your negative self-talk through 10 practical ways to reparent your inner child. Your negative self-talk reflects the unmet needs and unhealed wounds of that metaphorical little you that lives inside all of us. Reparenting, or the conscious act of providing ourselves with the consistent care and understanding we may have missed as children, is the most important tool you have to create healthier thoughts and behavior patterns. Your adult self has more agency, resources, and knowledge than your child self, and most of all, your adult self has the wisdom of your unique lived experience. This is why experiencing all that a secure attachment style has to offer starts with being securely attached to yourself.

Reparenting is a therapeutic strategy that has been around for ages and has been proven to work well for a variety of concerns, but it has more recently entered the mental health conversation in a bigger way because more and more people are becoming attuned to its potential benefits. And yet, it also seems like a tough idea to understand and to put into practice, perhaps because there are some misconceptions about what this coping strategy is all about. For example:

  • It is a “woo-woo” idea. When some people hear this term, they inevitably draw parallels to ideas that feel unconventional, irrational, or lacking scientific support. This may be because people think that reparenting involves a form of imagination that doesn’t feel tangible or realistic. But reparenting work is very practical and tangible, especially when you understand it to be a form of self-care that allows you to be your best in every area of life.
  • It's only for those with attachment issues: While reparenting therapy is rooted in attachment theory, it can benefit people with a wide range of issues beyond attachment insecurity. Whether someone struggles with self-esteem, boundary-setting, workaholism, or emotional regulation, reparenting techniques can help foster self-compassion and resilience.
  • It involves blaming parents: Reparenting therapy does not seek to blame parents for past experiences or shortcomings. Instead, it focuses on understanding how early attachment dynamics influence present behaviors and beliefs. It's about recognizing and addressing the impact of those dynamics rather than assigning blame.
  • It's about "re-parenting" through "re-attaching" to external figures or replacing the original caregiver. Reparenting therapy does not usually involve seeking out external figures to serve as surrogate parents. The primary goal is for individuals to develop self-compassion and self-nurturing skills and to equip them with the tools and resources to meet their own emotional needs and soothe their inner child.

For those who are still skeptics and question how reparenting looks on a day-to-day basis, here’s one reparenting technique that you can try right away. People with secure attachment tend to be equipped with more balanced and realistic self-talk that acknowledges the challenges they encounter in life while also establishing a firm self-belief in their ability to meet those challenges head-on.

Try adopting the self-talk of the securely attached by selecting one of the following statements as your self-affirmation today.

  • I believe in and like myself.
  • I can handle what comes my way.
  • I can effect positive outcomes in my life.
  • I can be independent and rely on others, too.

Write your selected self-statement down and post it in a visible place. Look in the mirror and repeat it to yourself a few times as you take deep breaths and consider the meaning of these statements and their potential impact on your life. Visualize yourself embodying these qualities, especially during stressful times. Most of all, believe in your own potential to heal past attachment wounds and associated negative self-talk—and know that you have worth and deserve good things in life, no matter what.


Ho, Judy (2024). How attachment influences self-image. TEDxReno.

Ho, Judy. (2024). The New Rules of Attachment: How to Heal Your Relationships, Reparent Your Inner Child, and Secure Your Life Vision. Hachette Book Group.

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