Negative Self-Talk – March 23 2021

Negative Self-Talk – March 23 2021

When there is something to be scared or stressed about–whether real or imagined–our ancient “fight-or-flight” reactions kick in as they should. But then something else happens: the mind begins to trawl through memories to try and find something that will explain why we are feeling like this. So if we feel stressed or in danger, our minds dig up memories of when we felt threatened in the past, and then create scenarios of what might happen in the future if we cannot explain what is going on now. The result is that the brain’s alarm signals start to be triggered not only by the current scare, but by past threats and future worries. This happens in an instant, before we’re even aware of it. New evidence from brain scans confirms this: people who spend their days rushing around mindlessly, who find it difficult to stay present and get so focused on goals that they lose touch with the outside world, have an amygdala (the primeval part of the brain involved in fight-or-flight) that is on “high alert” all the time.

Mark Williams, PhD and Danny Penman, PhD, 



Negative self-talk is one of the most debilitating experiences we can have. The voices might begin the moment our eyes open in the morning, and continue throughout the day, fading only during an extreme workout, a yoga class, a great movie or love-making. Some of us will use a drink or a joint to dull the voices. Some an obsession or fantasy: someone we’re attracted to, a new car, a better job, winning the lottery, even getting revenge against someone who has ‘wronged’ us.


For some, these thoughts can be so all-pervasive that we have almost ceased to notice them, or ceased to see them as something we can change. Our mind may tell us we deserve to have these sorts of thoughts, because we are bad or worthless. It will tell us we are separate and different and worse than the rest of humanity, and this thought will amp up the negative thoughts to an even higher degree.


But we can arrest the process, much as we might step in if we saw a parent abusing their child in the supermarket. Just by interrupting the proceedings we allow for the possibility of change.


No one deserves to be spoken to the way our mind sometimes speaks to us. Ever. Nor is anything ever served by this kind of talk. If you’ve ever been berated by an authority figure, be it a parent, a teacher, a principal or a cop, you know that it rarely leads to change. Shame, yes. But almost never change. Because voices like this don’t tell us we have done something wrong; rather they tell us that we are something wrong. And if we are something wrong, then we probably aren’t capable of change anyway.


What allows change to occur is love. It is an act of self-love to stop long enough to notice the voices and what they are saying. Becoming aware of the barrage of negativity we are subjecting ourselves to brings it into the light of day, and once it has been seen, we can begin to change it.


There’s a saying in recovery groups that ‘I take care of the thought and let God take care of the obsession.’ This takes into the account that this negative, critical thinking has become a habit. If we’ve been at it for a few decades, it’s worn a groove in our mind and it’s going to keep occurring in us, at least for the time being. But it can change. We begin the change by noticing.


We check in with our thoughts and notice the negative words, the self-disgust and self-hatred. We say, oh. That voice again. Saying the same thing it always says. Would God speak to me this way? No. So this must not be the voice of God. Thanks for sharing. And then we turn away from it. Without trying to change it. We turn away from it, and by turning away from it, we are turning it over to God. Or if you’d rather, to nature or Higher Power or Supreme Loving Force of the Universe or to your Higher Self. We turn it over, letting this greater force deal with it.


And then we get present. We come to our senses. We notice the quality of light where we find ourselves. We listen to the murmur of the wind in the trees, the rush of traffic, the hiss of the espresso machine at Starbucks. We feel our feet on the ground, the breeze against our cheek. Taste the mint we just had. Smell the scent of winter in the air. We get present to what is, rather than to the thoughts about why we don’t deserve any of it.


It’s terribly simple. Extremely difficult to remember to do, but terribly simple once we have remembered. Once in the morning and once in the evening is a start. Eventually, we will find the way to do it throughout our day, each day spending a bit less time with our inner critic and a bit more time with what is. And when ‘what is’ takes up more space in our day than not, we will be pleasantly surprised at just how much life we find ourselves deserving of.


Today I will take care of the thought, and let God take care of the obsession.

Autumn Trees, Thousand Islands, Ontario, Canada