Changing Negative Self-Talk


Though we may not always be aware of it, we are constantly interpreting and analyzing situations. We are each equipped with an internal voice that determines how we perceive every experience and circumstance. Many psychologists refer to this internal voice as ‘self-talk’, and it tends to include both our conscious thoughts and our subconscious beliefs and opinions.

While the majority of our self-talk is relatively reasonable, we may experience some overwhelming negative self-talk from time-to-time – especially, it seems, in early recovery. When we first sober up, we are hit with all of the accumulated destruction we have caused over the course of our active addiction. We may arrive at an inpatient treatment center somewhere across the country, suddenly recognizing that all of the bridges we have ever built have been violently burned to the ground – thus we are essentially trapped on an island of self-inflicted misery and extreme emotional instability. We are alone; no friends, no family willing to speak to us, no material possessions and no way out. We may begin ruminating on all of the harm we have done, internalizing the pain and formulating false beliefs about ourselves based solely on our past behavior and our current circumstances. Negative self-talk will overthrow all positive thinking, and we will begin saying things to ourselves like, “I am a bad person, I have done so many bad things,” and, “I’m hopeless, there is no way I can do this. I’m such a screw up, I don’t even deserve recovery.”

Changing Negative Self-Talk

By continuously challenging the negative aspects of your thinking patterns, you can learn to reverse negative self-talk and begin building yourself up rather than tearing yourself down. Repeatedly challenging negative thoughts will help you to approach situations in a more realistic and beneficial way. Of course, like nearly everything else worth doing, learning to alter your detrimental self-talk patterns will take ample time and practice. Once you begin constructively examining your own internal dialogue, you may be shocked at how much of your self-talk is defeating, exaggerated, and focused exclusively on the negative. When you begin to feel anxious, depressed, aggravated, or overwhelmed, take a step back and look carefully at your current thoughts. Use these amplified emotions as internal cues, and truly reflect on your feelings. Is what you are feeling valid? Do you feel as if your perception of the current situation is accurate, or are you blowing things somewhat out of proportion? As addicts and alcoholics, we have a keen knack for making mountains from molehills.

A good way to challenge the accuracy of your perception is to ask yourself some challenging questions, of which there are four main types:

  1. Reality Testing
  • Am I jumping directly to negative conclusions without fairly assessing the situation?
  • Are my thoughts regarding the situation factual, or am I interpreting the situation from an emotionally charged standpoint?
  • Is there any evidence that supports my thinking? Is there any evidence that negates my thinking?
  • How can I figure out whether or not my thoughts are actually true?
  1. Goal-Directed Thinking
  • What can I change that will help me to solve my problems and bring me closer to my goals?
  • What can I take way from the situation? What can I approve upon next time?
  • Is this way of thinking helping me or hurting me?
  1. Putting Things into Perspective
  • Is this situation really as horrible in actuality as it is in my head?
  • What is the most likely outcome?
  • What is the worst that could happen, and how will I handle the worst possible outcome?
  • Can I make a list of the positives that are coming out of this specific experience?
  • Will any of this even matter in 6 month’s time? What about in 5 years?
  1. Seeking Out Alternative Explanations
  • Are there any other ways in which I could view this experience?
  • Is there potentially a presently unknown reason why I am currently experiencing this – maybe to teach me a lesson or strengthen my character?
  • If I was thinking positively, would I perceive this situation differently?

Self-Defeating Thought Patterns

When you recognize that your current way of thinking is nothing short of self-defeating, you may be inspired to begin looking at things from a different perspective. The way you talk to yourself shapes the way you feel about yourself, and the way you feel about yourself affects how well you perform in all areas of life. Learning to treat yourself with the unconditional love and respect you deserve is no small task, but it is certainly worth the peace of mind and elimination of unnecessary obstacles. Because negative self-talk typically originates from long-standing fears and beliefs, it is necessary to thoroughly examine those beliefs and trace them back to their initial source.

We at Next Chapter spend ample time helping each and every one of our clients identify and overcome patterns of negative self-talk, understanding that eliminating false core beliefs is often vital to the maintenance of long-term recovery. For more information on our specific program of addiction recovery, please feel free to contact us today. And remember – you are worth it!