5 Steps to Breaking Free from Negative Self-Talk

Do you say mean, horrible, awful things to yourself? You know what I’m talking about…the sorts of things that if said out loud your friends and family would wonder about your sanity. Or reverse things, and think about saying the things you say to yourself to others – you wind up punched in the face or alone forever right?

The good news is you’re not alone. It’s part of being human and there’s a usefulness to having an inner critic and judge, but only up to a point.

When the voice in your head becomes punishment seeking, imagines the worst and the tell-tell-sign is you’re unable to dismiss the critical thoughts even when you know they’re not true, you’ve crossed the line.

You can’t ever completely get rid of negative self-talk, but you can quiet it down, minimize it, and when recognized, squash it quickly rather than feed and fuel it.

That’s the real goal.

To believe you can completely get rid of self-doubt, fear, thoughts of guilt and worry…it’s just not possible, but you don’t have to be caught up in it much nor often.

A Closer Look

We all have an inner critic that goes on and on saying the most awful things to ourselves, about us and about other people.   It’s the judge, jury and executioner.

When the voice is loudest, we can feel crazy, super on edge and we lash out at ourselves and often those around us – which reinforces the bad stuff our minds are telling us about our character, our personality, and our worth as a person.

The negative, mean, awful inner critic and view of yourself might go something like:

  • Why did I do that, how stupid can I be?
  • Nobody likes me, well why would they, I’m boring.
  • I’m so disgustingly fat and lazy, it’s no wonder I’m alone; I’m going to end up like one of those scary cat ladies
  • Why don’t you try something new instead of doing the same dumb $h*t?
  • What is wrong with me?
  • Is there a cure for ugly cuz I need it!
  • I wish I were never born, the world would be better off without me.
  • I’m a total fraud, thank goodness people don’t know the real me, cuz if they did, whoa…
  • Come on already, get a back bone you weak piece of crap; no wonder people walk all over me, I deserve it!
  • Will life always be like this, will I always be this miserable?
  • How many more self-help books can a loser like me read and still not get it together! WTH!

Any of these sound familiar?

If you’re like most people, you’ve tried to calm the inner critic by tuning it out and ignoring it with distractions like intense exercise, comfort foods, watching TV, endlessly scrolling through your social media sites, gambling, shopping, alcohol or drugs, being a caregiver to others while ignoring your own personal needs, etc.

Each of these kinds of methods only make things worse – the voice doesn’t go away, instead it intensifies.

Why? It’s rather simple really. Think about how a child behaves when the parent ignores him/her. The child might act up, misbehave and/or becomes overly clingy and needy until, finally, the parent pays attention.

If the parent’s attention is:

  1. loving and with presence, the child is comforted and feels safe, worthy and loved. The inner self-talk going forward supports those feelings.
  2. negative and further pushes the child away (like yelling at the child to behave, quiet down, sending them to their room, or some other form of punishment) – the child feels abandoned, unloved, shameful and angry. This is when the harsh, awful inner critic really builds its strength and momentum.

These experiences, built over time, form the inner chatter in the child’s head – either building the child’s confidence and self-worth or tearing it down.

Quieting and Re-framing the Inner Critic

So far this is pretty 101 stuff right?

What isn’t 101 is how do you quiet and re-frame the harsh inner critic as an adult? How do you friend your inner chatter?

Well, you don’t keep ignoring it or find ways to distract yourself from dealing with it.

Instead, you put your full attention on it and become aware of the phrases and patterns.

You get curious about the statements your inner critic says and begin to ask questions like: Why? Is it true? Do I believe it and if I do, why? Do I want to continue to believe it? What do I want to feel and believe?

Once you’ve become aware, start to be curious and start asking questions (hint: you are doing so without attaching judgment to the answer nor resentment towards others if you feel they are the cause), then you’re ready to sooth the inner critic, quiet it down and replace the negative, harsh inner self-talk with empowering and positive statements and beliefs.

Is this easy? That would be a big Hell NO! Is it possible? Of course it is – I should know. One of my favorite phrases for over 20 years was that I was a fraud; I lived in fear people would find out and if they only knew the real me, uh-oh! The reality was, people were seeing and experiencing the real me – I was just letting the negative, harsh, inner-critic confuse me and shake my confidence.

Is it worth putting your full attention on your inner critic? Well, what would you give to have more mental serenity and feel more confident and worthy going about your life? If it’s important, you’ll put your time, effort and focus on making the shift.

You will be uncomfortable. It will be painful at times. But wouldn’t temporary discomfort and pain now for the opportunity to have a significantly more joyful life and improved health, both mentally and physically, be worth it?

How?  In 5 Steps:

  • Become aware of the judgments and phrases your inner critic routinely says.  You do this by being intentional in listening for them. Like putting a string on your finger as a reminder, set up multiple reminders throughout the day to pause and write down (yes with paper and pen) what you’re hearing. Pick regular activities you do multiple times a day (each time you take a drink of something, at every red light, going to the bathroom, etc.) and simply ask “what’s my inner critic telling me today?” – then recall what you’ve heard (or chances are your inner critic will speak directly to you right then and there). You can also set your phone alarm 4-5 times during the day to pause and reflect.
  • Write it down, every day, throughout the day (as it happens ideally, but practically speaking doing so morning, mid-day and at night works just as good). This is the step most people skip over thinking, “eh, I’ll remember, heck I’ve been hearing that crap for umpteen years, I got it; I’ll just think about it”. NO! Simply mentally thinking about it or recalling it won’t break the cycle or pattern. Put it on paper. When you do, you’ll start to see themes, patterns and also events that trigger the negative self-talk. When it’s on paper it’s revealing and transformation becomes possible.
  • Take consistent daily action to replace the negative, harsh inner critics words with what you want to hear and feel. This too should be done on paper, and practiced daily, throughout the day. Write down the critical words/phrases, then next to it, write down a replacement phrase (even if you don’t believe it yet, but desire to have the belief). Repeat the replacement phrase to yourself 3-4 times after writing it out. Be sure to use your common everyday way of speaking – this isn’t an exercise in perfect grammar; if it’s not your words, you won’t believe it.
  • Every morning and every night – review your written list and practice repeating the empowering, positive statements to yourself. Say them with feeling. To really sear the words into your soul, do this exercise in front of the mirror, looking yourself in the eyes and saying it with full conviction and emotion.
  • Another excellent way to start truly believing your new phrases and catalyze the change you desire – video record yourself and replay it back – you’ll get to witness your body language, voice, emotion, etc.  It may also likely bring up new negative inner critic thoughts and judgments, and that’s ok – just repeat steps 1 through 4 here if it does.

Try this process for 3 weeks (I can’t emphasize enough, be sure to set multiple daily reminders to become aware and get curious and then write it down – these are critical MUST DO steps). Take consistent daily action.

You’re not striving for perfection, just progress every day.

When you follow this process, you will see yourself differently, reap positive mental and physical health benefits and experience life in a way you probably didn’t think was possible.

I’d love to hear how it goes and the experience you have with this mindset changing technique. Leave a comment and share your thoughts and feedback.

And if you know of someone who could also benefit from this article, I’d be honored if you’d share this with them.

Rusti Q is a certified Eating Behavior Coach who specializes in eating psychology and mind-body nutrition. She is dedicated to helping adults free themselves from their food insecurities, negative inner-self talk and torment around food, weight and body shame so that they can live a more meaningful, fun-filled, self-accepting and healthy life.   She’s triumphed over her 25 year battle with food, weight and body image; no longer questioning her self-worth, lovability and opportunity for happiness and a healthy life. Rusti Q’s coaching services will Unlock Your Healthy Self, because the fact is, each person has what they need already inside them, they simply need better information, tailored lifestyle strategies and guidance to find their set of keys to unlock it. Buried in us all is self-love; from there, every health goal is possible and food issues dissolve.


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