Self-talk is that stream of thoughts and dialogue in our minds throughout the day - and perhaps what keeps us from sleeping well at night. Self-talk can be our greatest cheerleader, but also our most viscous inner critic. So how can we change our inner dialogue if it is no longer helping us?
We can start by recognizing negative thinking patterns and their impact on how we feel and our behavior. Cognitive Processing Therapy, an evidence-based treatment for PTSD, does a great job of describing what they call, "Patterns of Problematic Thinking." They are:
- Jumping to conclusions or predicting the future
- Exaggerating or minimizing a situation (blowing things way out of proportion or shrinking their importance inappropriately)
- Ignoring important parts of a situation
- Oversimplifying things as good/bad or right/wrong
- Over-generalizing from a single incident (a negative event is seen as a never-ending pattern)
- Mind reading (we assume people are thinking negatively of us when there is no definite evidence for this)
- Emotional reasoning (using our emotions as proof, e.g., "I feel fear so I must be in danger")
Taking time to identify our automatic thoughts and examine them is key. We can do this through journaling or reflection. Identify the thought, and ask "What triggered this? How did it affect how I felt or acted?"
As we get better at recognizing these automatic and negative thinking patterns, we can work to challenge them. To do this, we can put these thoughts, "on trial" and ask ourselves what the evidence is for these thoughts - and would the evidence hold up in court? We can continue to interrogate the negative self-talk - maybe we are engaging in an "all or nothing" thinking pattern, or our self-talk is based on feelings rather than facts.
Unraveling negative self-talk is a process and it will help us to focus on progress rather than perfection. We developed these habits over a long period of time, and probably for good reason. Maybe we used this self-talk to motivate ourselves or protect ourselves - and that is okay. But when it is no longer serving us, it is time to put negative self-talk down.
“If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”