“Why did I say that.” “I’m never getting that promotion.” “What is the matter with me?” “They are never going to call me back.” “No one will ever love me.” “I must be the only person like this."
Do any of the above examples reflect some of the negative thoughts that go through your head daily?
Now you may be starting to doubt your relationship or ability to be a first responder or military member. It also may seem absolutely exhausting to function some days with these thoughts running on repeat.
In the counseling world, these thoughts are called negative self-talk. The good news…those thoughts do not have to have a draining impact on you. Check out these five important points to learn and understand more about those thoughts in your head.
- Everyone has negative self-talk.
- It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Outside impacts can make it worse.
- You can change how it impacts you.
- Rule of positive to negative impacts.
1. Everyone has negative self-talk.
Everyone has those pesky thoughts in their head. However, it can impact people quite differently.
As humans, we are programed to have negative thoughts. Those thoughts happen as an instinctual protective measure to help keep us safe. That’s where we learn to not touch a hot stove or steer clear on the rattle snake when out in nature.
Negative self-talk becomes unhealthy when those thoughts are overwhelming or persistently intrusive.
If the thoughts have changed from being a protective measure to impacting our decisions, thought processes, or what we feel about ourselves, it has likely become an unhealthy thinking pattern.
An example is if I had persistent thoughts of being fired from my job, which I want to keep. In this scenario, those thoughts are not based on any substantial evidence.
With those thoughts being persistently present, my stress level will likely increase significantly. I could start over thinking everything I’m doing and the work interactions I have. I’d be a hot mess and not good at my job if I thought like this constantly.
Without any valid evidence to support the thoughts, the results will not only impact how I do my job, but potentially impact me in other areas of life.
The impacts can look different for everyone.
With the example above, behavior and stress level changes are two ways thoughts that are negative in nature can impact daily life. This can manifest in many ways for people.
If self-talk has become unhealthy, it can significantly impair the way you live life. However, it doesn’t have to stay this way.
2. It's a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
When we have unhealthy thoughts constantly playing in our head, it’s hard not to start believing those thoughts about ourselves.
We are often our own worst critic.
Since those thoughts are negative in nature, we tend to start letting those thoughts impact our decisions and beliefs about ourselves.
An example is I recently started running again after quite a long break. During my run about a week ago, I was struggling. The thoughts in my head were something like “you’re so out of shape, wow, how were you ever in the military, I can’t believe you want to stop already” and a few worse ones.
I ended up stopping for a short break at a hill in my neighborhood.
My intrusive, self-deprecating thoughts became a self-fulfilling prophecy that influenced my decision to stop running and take a short break. That self-talk impacted me when I probably could have kept running.
When we fuel the negative beliefs in our head, we are allowing those thoughts to keep impacting us, taking up valuable space, rent free. They can often have deeper levels of impact if we keep fueling them.
3. Outside Impacts Can Make It Worse.
Sometimes the unhealthy self-talk in our head gets amplified by outside influences, often unintentionally.
If someone says or does something we perceive as matching our negative thoughts about ourselves, it can have an even deeper impact on us.
That message from someone can almost seem like confirmation that validates all those thoughts in our heard.
Using my example above of going for a run, my outside impact came from my husband, unintentionally. After telling him I went for a run, he jokingly asked if I made it over one mile. I hadn’t before I stopped.
The feelings of guilt, embarrassment, and others flooded in after he said that. I know his intention was not to make me feel that way (he often gives me crap about different things), but wow, did it hit hard.
One point I want to make is even though my husband’s comment hit hard, I wasn’t unkind to my husband in return, even though I thought about it! He had no idea of all the crap I was telling myself in my head.
Knowing and staying aware that others can amplify the unhealthy thoughts we have is an important key to managing it.
4. You Can Change How It Impacts You.
There are ways to tackle and change the impact of negative self-talk! Wahoo!
One way is to stop fueling those belittling thoughts.
That doesn’t mean the thoughts won’t come to your mind anymore. They will. Instead, when they do come, we intentionally shift our thoughts to counter the unhealthy ones or focus on something else.
An example of this is another run I went on a couple of days after my first run. I ran the same route and had similar thoughts going through my head.
However, this time when I got to the hill and wanted to stop, I fueled a different fire. I chose to stop, BUT then I proceeded to do lunges while I caught my breath. After I felt ready to continue, I started up the hill.
Even though the unhealthy thoughts still impacted me on that run, I chose to have an alternative that I was proud of myself for choosing.
Another approach to tackle unhealthy self-talk is looking at your evidence.
We often let pessimistic thoughts take over in our mind. Meaning we dismiss our evidence in front of us that often contradicts those pessimistic thoughts in our head.
Going with my example above, those same badgering thoughts were in my head for a while. But I was out running, which is what I wanted.
My evidence is my time that was faster, feeling more confident, choosing to do exercises during my quick break, and choosing to run instead of making excuses not to. I ran faster, felt better, and was proud of myself for going.
I previously mentioned intentional because change is an intentional process!!
The process takes practice, time, and patience to change the amount of fuel we’re giving those unhealthy thoughts.
If you find yourself struggling to achieve change with negative self-talk, talking with a counselor is another great approach to help get you started on your journey to change.
5. Rule of Positive to Negative Impacts.
To set you up for success, I want to leave you with one last thought. Research shows for every one negative experience, it takes three positive experiences to offset. It’s called the 3 – to – 1 Positivity Ratio.
This is important to remember to help keep a realistic expectation of change during your journey!
Adversity and challenge are almost a guaranteed part of change and growth. When you face an obstacle on your journey, there are lots of ideas and thoughts to consider. Below are a few:
- How can I make this positive? What can I learn from this?
- Remember the accomplishments or steps you’ve taken this far.
- What does my evidence tell me?
- Fill your cup so you have energy to do the work.
- You’re not alone. Many other people face challenges too during growth.
These are just some questions and thoughts to remind ourselves that we are on a journey. Most journeys have some bumps or turns along the way.
When we face unpredictable, and often, heavily congested California traffic, do we pull off to the side of the road and just sit there until it’s easy driving? Probably not. We’d never get to where we want to go!
Instead, we keep going forward, taking it slow, moving with the flow of traffic, but ultimately progressing forward. It might not be as fast as we want to go, but we are moving forward.
Remember this same idea on your journey to reducing and changing the impacts of unhealthy thoughts.
You’re not alone in this time of change. Remember, you can do this. Creating healthy habits to help harness and keep our negative self-talk in check will lead you down the road toward fulfilling your goals.
Be well and take care!
Liz is an Associate Clinical Social Worker in California. She is one of our experienced counselors at Code 3 Counseling. Liz specializes in working with first responder and military trauma. You can contact her through our website.
If you find that this exercise or these conversations brought up some stuff you are struggling with, either individually or in your relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. We are here to support you, and we understand that this can be a challenging issue to face.
Remember, it may be your battle, but you don’t have to fight it alone.