Countering Negative Self-Talk With Positive Self-Talk


As a therapist, I am always interested in the inner monologues that people hear in their heads. That voice and those messages profoundly inform and impact self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

With mental health awareness month coming in May, I wanted to present readers with an opportunity to check in with themselves about the messages they are focusing on. The way you talk to yourself about yourself influences your emotional states, subsequent thoughts, and the behavioral choices you make throughout the day.  Whether you are conscious of it or not, you lead from this internal tape.  It activates and regulates your moods.  It tells you if it’s okay to take risks. It guides what you think and feel when you look in the mirror and catch your own reflection gazing back.

Positive self-talk motivates, inspires, and empowers you.  Negative self-talk judges, criticizes, belittles and shames you. The tricky thing about your negative self-talk is that you probably don’t acknowledge, analyze, or re-evaluate it.  No matter how hurtful negative self-talk is, it gets normalized and remains unchallenged.  You act from it and accept the messages as irrefutable truths without considering the possibility that those messages are inaccurate and even harmful.

This is because the earliest and most important messages that defined your sense of self and self-worth came from trusted caretakers. No child entertains the idea that input and feedback from parents, teachers, extended family members, clergy, even peers, could be wrong. And like everyone else, you probably assumed and accepted that the criticism, judgment, unreasonable expectations, harsh demands, and shaming, was justified.

Imagine what might change for you if you considered the possibility that the messages you were given about your worth were inaccurate.  Like every other child, you saw your reflection in the mirrors your caretakers held up to you, and those reflections became the “truth” about who you were and how you deserved to be treated.  What if, rather than going through life with the belief that your image was defective, you allowed for the possibility that the mirror was defective: blurred, cracked, or distorted?  In other words, the messages you got from caretakers was not objective or accurate.  Maybe it got filtered through their own mental health issues, traumatic experiences, poor parental role models, or lack of self-esteem.

Whatever caused the important people in your life to pass on to you a negative monologue, know that you have the power, ability, and choice to change it! So how can you begin to identify the ways in which you talk to yourself, and then move in the direction of making new choices once you discover those well-worn messages only hold you back and get in your way?

As obvious as it sounds, start by acknowledging that you have an inner monologue. ake time during the day to pause, and allow yourself to notice how you talk to yourself about key issues that commonly impact your life. These can include:

The messages you give yourself about whether or not you can achieve a goal.

How optimistically or pessimistically you approach new challenges.

How warmly versus critically you evaluate your accomplishments.

How deserving you believe you are of success in all arenas of your life.

How judgmental, critical, or shaming your messages are versus compassionate and kind.

The extent to which you can acknowledge and celebrate your strengths versus focusing on what you perceive to be your “weaknesses.”

It’s equally important to notice the tone of voice that accompanies your messages. Despite popular belief, you will never feel motivated by bullying or shaming yourself.   The more you put yourself down, the less likely it is that you will achieve inner peace or success.  Once you recognize the harsh nature of your words experiment with giving yourself the messages in kinder ways.

How would you say it to a friend or loved one?

How would you say it to someone who is afraid and needs extra compassion?

How would a person who treats you with kindness say the message to you?

Who are the loving role models in your life or in society that you can emulate?

At the end of the day you get to decide how much power you want to turn over to other people and the messages they gave you that formed the core narrative and tone of your self-talk.  Keep in mind that your inner tape impacts the choices you make about friendships and intimate partners.  It guides how you parent your kids.  It defines careers and either keeps you in a toxic workplace or frees you up to find more validation and support.  It influences the extent to which resonates to take care of your medical health and mental wellbeing.

With so much at stake, it’s worth the time and effort to notice negative self-talk and begin to shift the messages into ones that are more loving and self-compassionate. Once you discover how much better it feels to talk to yourself in ways that are loving, compassionate, and kind, you’ll never look back.


Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C, DAPA, is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist who has been in private practice for over 30 years. She is the founder of The Ferentz Institute. An internationally known author, speaker, clinician and consultant, Ferentz participates in documentaries, webinars and podcasts related to trauma, self-care and wellbeing. She is also the author of Treating Self-Destructive Behaviors in Trauma Survivors: A Clinician’s Guide and Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing and Finding Your Ruby Slippers: Transformative Life Lessons From the Therapist’s Couch available on Amazon.

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