Challenging negative self-talk
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 or person. Self-talk refers to those thoughts or things you say to yourself.
The problem with self-talk is that what you think or say to yourself might seem true. You might assume that your thoughts are facts, when in actuality they are your perceptions. Sometimes these perceptions might be biased or incorrect.
Self-talk can be skewed towards the negative, and sometimes it’s just plain wrong. Especially if you’re depressed, it’s likely that you could be interpreting things negatively. When you feel anxious, depressed or stressed out, your self-talk is likely to become extreme—you’ll be liable to expect the worst and focus on the most negative aspects of your situation. So it’s helpful to try and put things in perspective.
That’s why it’s useful to keep an eye on the things you tell yourself, and challenge some of the negative aspects of your thinking. You can test, challenge and change your self-talk by identifying the irrational parts and replacing them with more reasonable, truthful thoughts.
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’ll probably be surprised by how much of your thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated or focused on the negatives of the situation.
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 might be 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.
Ask yourself these four main types of questions:
1. Reality testing
- What evidence supports my thinking? What proof is there that my thinking is false?
- Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
- Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?
2. Alternative explanations
- Are there any 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?
- Is this situation as bad as I’m making out to be?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is that?
- 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?>/li>
- Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future?
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
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