How To Stop Negative Self-Talk: 7 Strategies From a Therapist

What is negative self-talk?

Everyone has a voice or voices in their head. Sometimes those voices are nice and other times those voices are highly critical. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, perfectionism or just are human, chances are you’ve experienced some form of negative self-talk.

While negative self-talk is extremely common, it isn’t amazing for your self-esteem. It can become especially problematic when it starts to impact your emotional well being. Some people are more prone to having a critical inner voice than others. If you’ve ever struggled with negative self-talk this post is for you.

What are the types of negative self-talk?

Negative self-talk comes in many forms, but I’m going to dive into the main ones below.


You filter out all the positive aspects of a situation and only focus on the ones. For example, you had a really productive day and got a lot of your tasks done. That evening, you focus only on the things you didn’t do and engage in negative self-talk as a result. This negative self-talk then leads to more negative emotions and the self-critical cycle continues.


When something happens, you engage in self-blame and take things personally. For example, someone tells you that they aren’t going to be able to make it to an important event of yours and you instantly think you’re not important to them, or they don’t really love you.


You anticipate the worst case scenario without any evidence that the worst case scenario will happen. For example, you’re in the middle of a big travel day with a connecting flight and you missed your connecting flight. Catastrophizing negative self-talk might look like I will never be able to get on a flight home.


You blame other people for situations that didn’t go your way instead of being responsible for your own thoughts and feelings. This could also look like blaming yourself for things not going as planned.

“Shoulding”all over yourself

This form of negative self-talk is probably one of the sneakiest. You constantly tell yourself that you should be doing things and then are hard on yourself when you don’t do them. An example of this could be saying “I should go to the gym” or “I should study tonight.” Instead try, “I want to go to the gym and move my body” or “It’s important for me to study tonight.”


Over focusing or exaggerating things you don’t like about yourself. Or making a huge deal out of a small struggle.


Keeping unrealistically high standards that set yourself up for failure and give yourself little grace when unable to meet these high standards. Even if you do meet your high standards, you instantly raise the bar without celebrating your accomplishments.


You see things only as either good or bad. There is no grey area. Polarizing can be a problem because it doesn’t make space for the grey area. Situations can rarely be summed up into one word, and polarizing limits our ability to see the grey area in different situations.


When you dismiss your strengths, positive qualities, or thing you’re doing well. This form of negative self-talk has a huge impact on self-esteem and self-love.


Using all or nothing thinking like “always” and “never.” For example, “I always procrastinate.” or “I never follow through with what I say I am going to do.”

Examples of negative self-talk

Some examples of negative self-talk might be:

“I’m not good at this.”

“I’m a bad friend.”

“No one likes me.”

“I’ll never be able to reach my goals.”

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’m not smart enough.”

“Nothing ever goes right for me.”

“I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“What am I doing wrong?”

“I can’t do anything right.”

“I’m such a negative person”

How to overcome negative self-talk

Negative self-talk is extremely common and while I wish we all talked to ourselves in more kind and loving ways, the good news is it’s possible to retrain your brain. Have you ever heard of neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to continue growing and changing in response to life experiences. Scientists used to believe that after a certain age the brain was incapable of change. But more recent research suggests that our brains are capable of changing.

Maybe you have always (notice my use of overgeneralization right there) struggled with a critical inner voice, or maybe this is new to you in this particular stage of life. Either way, thanks to the idea of neuroplasticity there is hope to learn a new, more positive way of talking to yourself. It just takes some intention and effort! Keep reading for some of my favorite ways to combat negative self-talk.

Identify your limiting beliefs

First things first, it’s important to become aware of what kind of thoughts you’re feeding your brain. For many of my clients, they aren’t even aware of how much negative self-talk they are engaging in until I point it out to them. Once they are aware, they’re able to focus on what their inner critic is saying and identify certain limiting beliefs.

A limiting belief is a thought or belief you have about yourself that might be holding you back. While limiting beliefs aren’t the only type of negative self-talk it is a common one. It can be challenging to identify limiting beliefs or negative self-talk at first.

In this case, I generally recommend that my clients try journaling to notice what sorts of themes or sentences seem to pop up often. Once you have an awareness of how negative self-talk is showing up you can move onto the next step.

Challenge negative self-talk

While we may not be able to control our first thought also known as automatic thoughts, we can control the next thought. Once you have learned to recognize negative thoughts as they arise. You can use this awareness to identify any negative thought patterns and start to challenge your negative self-talk in the moment.

Often times negative thoughts are linked to irrational belief systems. When you notice a negative thought popping up, one of my favorite practices is to fill out this cognitive behavioral therapy worksheet for it. In the worksheet you explore your negative thought and work towards identifying a new more positive realistic thought. I dive more into how to do this in the worksheet, so make sure to download it if you’re interested.

Practice Positive Self-Talk

As a holistic therapist, I believe it is vital to acknowledge all of our feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Practicing positive self-talk by reframing negative thoughts when they arise is an invaluable tool to help manage critical inner dialogue.

As discussed above practicing positive self-talk is an important part of retraining your brain. The wellness world is filled with a lot of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity means you avoid or ignore your negative thoughts or feelings. Instead of acknowledging anything negative, you try to shift into a positive mindset and engage in positive thinking.

I want to emphasize that this is not what I mean when I say to practice positive self-talk. If you believe the negative things you say to yourself, then telling yourself positive things that you don’t believe can actually do more harm than good. By using the worksheet I shared above, you can work towards shifting your thoughts in an evidence based way.

Treat yourself like a friend or a loved one

A great way to stop negative self-talk is to ask yourself would I say this to a friend? Imagine if someone in your life was struggling with constant negative self-talk and they came to you and told you some of the things they were thinking. Imagine if they came to you and said they were feeling worried about no one liking them or they were afraid other people were judging them because they’re a failure.

Would you say yeah, you’re right you are failure and no one likes you? Or would you practice compassion, would you validate their experience and try to comfort them? When you struggle with self criticism, it’s often so much easier to be kind to others.

If you wouldn’t say something to a friend then it’s probably not something worth saying to yourself.

Practice gratitude

Practicing gratitude has a multitude of benefits on mental health, and using gratitude to stop negative self-talk is an amazing tool. When we connect to gratitude it brings us into the present moment. In the present moment, it’s impossible to be focused on negative thoughts.

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is a practice, because it isn’t something you will ever perfect. Practicing self-compassion is an amazing way to increase self-worth, and improve overall self-talk. According to Kristin Neff, the queen of self-compassion, it “entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”

When practicing self-compassion it’s important to create space to honor your feelings, and respond in kind, and loving ways. This might sound something like, I know you’re feeling really scared right now and that’s ok. How can I love and nurture myself through these difficult emotions? Another example could be “I’m really disappointed that I made that mistake and that’s ok. It’s also ok to make mistakes.

Talk with a therapist

Arielle sitting on a counter holding a cup of tea
As a holistic Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for over a decade, I have worked with so many people who have struggled with negative thinking. It can be extremely challenging trying to learn new ways of talking to yourself, but with help from a mental health professional it’s doable. If you’re interested in learning more about how negative self-talking is showing up in your life and want help from a professional, reach out to a therapist in your state. If you live in the state of California and are interested in working together, you can learn more about me here. Also don’t forget to get your FREE download of reframing negative thoughts worksheet.


Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional advice of your own attorney, accountant, physician, or financial advisor. Always check with your own physician, attorney, financial advisor, accountant, or other business or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

That's So Well Therapist Arielle

It's me, Arielle!

Holistic Therapist, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Yoga Instructor in Elk Grove, California.

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