What Is Self-Talk?
Many people are conscious of an inner voice that provides a running monologue on their lives throughout the day and into the night. This inner voice, combining conscious thoughts with unconscious beliefs and biases, is an effective way for the brain to interpret and process daily experiences.
Known as self-talk, this internal chatter can be cheerful and supportive or negative and self-defeating. This voice is useful when it is positive, talking down fears and bolstering confidence. Human nature is prone to negative self-talk, however, and to sweeping assertions like “I can’t do anything right” or “I’m a complete failure."
Negative self-talk often does not reflect one's reality, and can paralyze people into inaction and self-absorption. A critical inner voice may be driven by the desire to protect a person from the shame of failure. Some people even credit their inner critic with pushing them to develop self-discipline, and to recognize their weaknesses before others do so that they can address them head on and push forward. Over time, though, the negativity of a critical inner voice takes an emotional toll.
How to Change Negative Self-Talk
People with depression and anxiety frequently experience destructive and dysfunctional self-talk; the internal chatter they hear may be incessant and overly critical. Overwhelmed by the negativity, they can wallow in painful rumination, attacking themselves ceaselessly. In severe cases, this type of inner dialogue can be curtailed with professional treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
In less acute cases, a negative inner critic can be challenged and sidelined, a process in which becoming consciously aware of its role is the first step. Simple and straightforward self-help techniques can be useful, such as practicing a more constructive inner voice with creative and positive tones, and addressing oneself in the third person. Research has found that using one’s name instead of “I” during moments of inner dialogue can create a useful psychological distance from the self and its emotional intensity, enabling one to avoid rumination and to perform with greater perspective, calm, and confidence.