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Fact Sheet

Challenging negative self-talk


ReachOut fact sheets are written by young people for young people and edited by a mental health professional. Want to discuss the topic in more depth? Visit the ReachOut Forums.

Negative Self-talk Photo by: rogilde

What is self-talk?

Self-talk refers to those thoughts or things you say to yourself. Positive self-talk can be a really great strategy to feel better about yourself.

Even though you can’t always control the situation you’re in or change other people, you can change the way you think about the situation. An example of negative self talk would be if you tell yourself that there’s no reason to study for an upcoming test if you already know that you’re going to fail. In this situation you may not even try to study because you believe regardless if you study or not you won’t pass. However if you think more positively about a situation it can change the outcome for the better. If you believe that you will do well on the test, then you’re more likely to do well on the test. Don’t doubt yourself, you’re capable of achieving a lot more than you think.

A challenge with negative self-talk is that what you think or say to yourself might seem true. You might assume that your thoughts are facts, when in reality they are based on your perceptions. If you are feeling down on yourself for some reason, this can lead to your thoughts being especially harsh.

When you feel anxious, depressed or stressed out, your self-talk is likely to become more extreme—you might expect the worst and focus on the most negative aspects of your situation. So it can be helpful to put a more positive perspective on things. For example, you can try to challenge your self-talk by trying to imagine a friend in the same situation. Many find it helpful to use that distance as a way to identify any irrational thinking and make suggestions for reframing the situation.

Changing the way you think about things might not be easy at first, but with time and practice, you’ll get better at it. Give it a try—it’s worth the effort! With practice, you can learn to notice your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way.

Dispute the self-talk

Disputing your self-talk means challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking. Doing this enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way. Once you start examining your thoughts, you might be surprised to realize how distorted some of your previous thoughts were.

Whenever you find yourself feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, use this as a signal to reflect on your thinking. A good way to test the accuracy of your perceptions is to ask yourself some challenging questions. These questions will help you check out your self-talk and see whether your current interpretation is reasonable. It can also help you discover other ways of thinking about your situation. Recognizing that your current way of thinking might be self-defeating—and prevent you from getting what you want out of life—can sometimes motivate you to look at things from a different perspective.

Challenging questions

Ask yourself these four main types of questions:

1. Reality testing

  • What evidence supports my thinking?
  • Are my thoughts facts or interpretations?
  • Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
  • How can I find out if my thoughts are true?

2. Alternative explanations

  • Are there other ways that I could look at this situation?
  • What else could the situation mean?
  • If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?

3. Perspective

  • Is this situation as bad as I’m making out to be?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  • What’s the best thing that could happen?
  • What’s most likely to happen?
  • Is there anything good about this situation?
  • Will this matter in five years?

4. Goal-directed thinking

  • Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals?
  • What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
  • Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future?

For more tips on ways to challenge negative or faulty thinking, check out the Common thinking errors fact sheet. For more information about self talk, check the Self-talk fact sheet.

This fact sheet comes from Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond.
Foundation for Life Sciences, 2005




  • avatar2

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    I always compare myself to other people and it just brings more and more negative self-talk i can´t even see the good things i just see that other people are better than me, and this is taking over me, i keep feeling that i´m not good enough for anything please help!

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote


      It sounds like you’re in the middle of a really tough time.  Sometimes it’s hard to just move past it, and we all need a little extra help.  Why don’t you make a call to the youth helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000?  They’re run by Boys Town (which is for everyone) and they are available 24/7 to talk to you about anything that is concerning you.  I think you’d be glad you called!

      Take care of yourself!
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote


    I am always self talking myself down because I am nothing like the girls at my school. Or the girls on the street. I don’t even think twice about it. It’s almost second nature! I need help! :/

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote


      Hey there 143_XD. It can be really hard to like ourselves sometimes when we are often bombarded by media messages that there is something wrong with us. It takes a lot of effort sometimes to learn to treat ourselves better. It’s ongoing so just take try some of the techniques in the article above and take it one day at a time. If you need someone to talk to, you could call the
      youth helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, run by Boys Town. It’s free, confidential, available 24/7, and not just for boys.

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote


    My parents always have negative comments to say about me and to me. so i always talk down to myself. any suggestions on how to stop?

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote


      We’re sorry things have been so negative at home lately! Maybe you could help the situation by deliberately practicing positive self-talk. Write down some great things about yourself, and go somewhere quiet and read them out loud to yourself. Let it all sink in. Let the good overwhelm the bad.

      Try to remember what you know is the truth about yourself. You know you’re not “bad,” so remember that. If someone tried to tell you that cows can fly, you wouldn’t believe them, because you know it’s not true. If your parents try to tell you something about yourself that you know isn’t true, don’t take it in.  Don’t believe it.

      Try this fact sheet for some tips about ending family arguments:

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