Look Who’s Talking: How to Respond to Negative Self-Talk

By Dr. Friedemann Schaub

For many years I was struggling with negative self-talk and mind-racing. From the moment I woke up, my thoughts bounced randomly from anything that had gone wrong in the past to a daunting “what-if reality” of the future and back, taking me on an exhausting mental and emotional roller-coaster ride. If you, too, struggle with a restless, anxious mind, you’re probably familiar with the negative voice that often pipes up at the most inopportune moments.

Maybe just before a first date your mind weighs in with, “What if you don’t have anything interesting to say?” Or as you are preparing for a presentation at work you hear, “Everyone knows you are just a fraud.“ To make matters worse, this negative part of our mind appears completely immune to logic or rational thinking.

Some teachings suggest negative self-talk stems from our ego, or the “monkey mind,” which is best ignored or fought by saying to ourselves “Stop! I don’t want to listen to you,” or simply, “Shut up.” However, in my case, it seemed the harder I tried to ignore or mute this inner voice, the more active and out of control it became.

Over the years I found rather than just suppressing these negative, anxious or critical thoughts, what worked best for my clients and I was to understand where they come from ― and what they are trying to achieve. Obviously we don’t consciously choose to deflate or scare ourselves, which means the source of these thoughts lies in a deeper part of our mind – the subconscious. But does our subconscious just have a mind of its own – or is there a purpose to negative self-talk?

During our early years, when we’re the most dependent on others to take care of our basic needs, our mind, especially our subconscious, sponges up all outside information that appears relevant to our sense of safety and comfort. Negative feedback, judgment or ridicule infiltrate our subconscious and leave us wondering whether we’re really safe, lovable or good enough.

In response, a part of our subconscious mind develops protective strategies to keep us from getting hurt. These strategies can range from trying to be invisible, pleasing others, aiming to be perfect, or becoming highly vigilant to avoid potential criticism and failure. Let’s imagine the negative and anxious thoughts you’ve been battling with stem from the part of your subconscious that has assumed the job of keeping you safe. Doesn’t it then make sense that these thoughts make you expect the worst, so you are prepared, keep you on your toes to avoid failure – or shame and belittle you, before someone else can do this to you?

But how do you respond to the negative thoughts of this inner protector? Imagine you’re with a frightened, insecure child who says, “I’m afraid that I’ll fail” or “Nobody cares about me.” How would you respond? Would you ignore the child or tell it to shut up? Or would you buy into its anxiety and tell that child, “Yes, you’re right, you suck and the world doesn’t care about you?” Probably not. What you would do is to comfort and reassure the child with kindness and compassion until it feels heard, safe and at ease.

Since the subconscious protector creates your negative self-talk developed during your childhood, it responds in a very similar way. Instead of ignoring, repressing or agreeing with it, this anxious, insecure voice needs to be addressed, reassured and appeased. This is why the following method is so effective that, with it, most of my clients can significantly reduce their negative self-talk within just a couple of weeks.

Step 1Write in a notebook or enter into your smartphone a negative thought the moment you notice it.

Step 2Take a reality check and ask yourself:

  • Is this thought true?
  • Does this thought make me feel good?
  • Does this thought help me to reach my goals?

These questions interrupt the spiral of negative thinking before it gets out of control.

Step 3-Immediately write down three positive thoughts to counterbalance the negative one. For example: Something bad will happen. Counterbalances could be: Right now, I am OK. There’ve been many times I was worried and everything turned out well. I have the strength and abilities to handle anything that come my way.

Step 4-Add positive emotions to your counter-balancing thoughts. I know that feeling positive and compassionate toward yourself can be a huge challenge, especially when you’re struggling with anxiety and low self-esteem. Therefore it’s helpful to remember the main source of your negative self-talk is a younger part of your subconscious mind, which is just playing old “tapes” and repeating outdated protective programs.

You will notice how much easier it is to speak in a calm, reassuring and comforting way when you visualize addressing an inner child. By counterbalancing your negative thoughts with kindness and compassion, you take on the proactive role of the competent, reassuring adult and automatically shift your consciousness and attitude from “I’m powerless” to “I’m taking charge.”

When you consider the source of negative self-talk and understand its needs, you no longer feel that you’re the victim of your own mind, but instead are able to guide your thoughts in the direction you want them to go.

Dr. Friedemann SchaubFriedemann Schaub MD, PhD is the author of “The Fear and Anxiety Solution.” As a physician specializing in cardiology and molecular biologist, Dr. Schaub became increasingly fascinated by the powerful influence of our thoughts, emotions and beliefs on health and disease. He recognized our abundant self-healing abilities can only function effectively when mind, body and spirit are in alignment, and believes the subconscious mind holds the keys to accelerated healing, well-being, and success.

Dr. Schaub created a breakthrough and empowerment program combining his medical expertise with NLP, Time Line Therapy™, clinical hypnotherapy, meditation, and more. For more details about his work, visit www.celluarwisdom.com and www.thefearandanxietysolution.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter: @drschaubf.