By Eva Taylor Grant, Bustle
Everyone says bad things about themselves every once and a while. But when negative self-talk happens regularly, it can become really destructive. If you're looking to curb unhelpful thinking, finding out what habits cause negative self-talk might be a step in the right direction.
Self-talk is your way of figuring out who you are in relation to the world around you. "We use self-talk to interpret what is happening around us, and to essentially explain to ourselves what we are seeing, how we are feeling and what it all means," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "Our self-talk is used to guide us through every moment." Good self-talk, like positive affirmations, can make even the most difficult moments easier.
On the other hand, negative self-talk can make everyday situations more difficult. "Negative self-talk is when we internalize and accept negative messages about who we are, how we should act, or what we should feel from outside sources," licensed professional counselor Melissa Coats, tells Bustle. "They are usually learned in childhood, but can also be developed over time. They become automatic and subconscious." Since these thoughts can be a struggle to overcome, it may be easier to prevent them, or work on ways to keep them at bay.
One of these helpful skills is identifying any habits you have that might be exacerbating negative self-talk. Curbing these habits may prevent mental and physical problems down the line.
Here are seven habits you didn't realize can cause your negative self-talk, according to experts.
1. Not Addressing Relationship Problems
If there's a major problem with your relationship, it's important for both your relationship and for your own mental health that you address it. If you don't, problems like negative self-talk can arise.
"In a relationship, when problems arise, we often hold back as to not create more conflict, to try and keep the peace, to make the problems go away," Dr. Klapow says. "This however creates a build up of stress, frustration and resentment. By not directly addressing relationship problems we create for ourselves a relationship environment that is negative." The negativity can turn into patterns of harmful thinking, which in turn might make your relationship conflict worse as well.
2. Poor Health Habits
It can be more difficult to feel good about yourself if you don't feel good physically. Whatever your health status, taking care of your health in ways that work for you can help curb negative self-talk. Neglecting your health, however, can make these thoughts multiply.
"Health is physical, mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and any other facet that affects our everyday lives," Coats says. "Denying ourselves of the care we need in these areas automatically sends the message to our mental being that we deserve the negative self-talk and that it is true." Finding a healthy lifestyle that works for you can improve your mental health as well.
3. Spending Too Much Time Alone
Being socially isolated, or spending too much time alone, can make negative self-talk spiral if you aren't careful. This effect is caused by the nature of not being around other people to distract you from the bad thoughts.
"When we are by ourselves our dialogue is an internal one," Dr. Klapow says. "[...] The act of interacting with other people forces us to limit our self- talk. We still can engage in it, but interaction with others allows our brain to focus on those interactions." Even if you don't have many people you know around you to spend time with, simply being around people can help keep the harmful thoughts at bay.
4. Not Asking For Help
Asking for help can be one of the biggest changes to curb negative self-talk. If you have a habit of not reaching out when you need it, however, your negative self-talk might get worse.
"It is particularly difficult to ask for help, from a friend or a professional, when we feel stuck in the negative self-talk cycle," Coats says. "But sometimes, hearing someone else validate your need for affirmation can alter the cycle." If you find it difficult, make a small goal of calling one friend, or making one intake appointment, for some help. You don't need to do too much start feeling the positive effects of reaching out.
5. Not Making Time For Self-Care
Beyond simply taking care of your physical health, taking care of your wellness is important too. If you've been doing the bare minimum, but have neglected self-care, your negative self-talk might start to creep in more than usual.
"Self-care is essential," Coats says. "I often have clients in my office that believe they are selfish if they take time out to care for themselves, or that they are not worth their own time. But that only reinforces the negative self-talk. Engaging in self-care automatically communicates to the brain that they are worth the time and effort." Do something simple to remind yourself you're worth it, and you'll likely find relief pretty soon.
6. Denying You Experience Negative Self-Talk
Everyone experiences negative self-talk. If you have a habit of being defensive, insisting that harmful thinking patterns aren't something you need to deal with, then they may get worse.
"Not authentically acknowledging the dialogue that runs through your head simply prevents you from accurately acknowledging and changing your negative self-talk," Dr. Klapow says. "Saying 'I'm fine' when you believe you are not can push negative self-talk further." A habit of pushing emotions down may end up making you feel even worse.
7. Spending Too Much Time Around Negative People
Being around negative people a lot can, in fact, make your thoughts more negative. Even if your sarcastic friends have a great sense of humor, hearing a lot of self-criticism from others can normalize self-criticism for you.
"When we surround ourselves, most of the time unintentionally, with people that put us down or engage in their own negative self-talk, it reinforces the behavior to engage in it ourselves," Coats says. It's important, if you're struggling with negative self-talk, to identify and then distance yourself from these types of people.
"If you want to talk positively to yourself, start by surrounding yourself with caring, compassionate friends," Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "You’ll learn to treat yourself with kindness and be more gentle and playful." All of those things are pretty great qualities anyway.
Dealing with negative self-talk doesn't have to just be a battle inside your own head. Identifying and working to curb certain habits can help these thoughts naturally abate as well. And if the thoughts are becoming hard to overcome, despite trying to shift your habits, it's important to see a professional to get the help you deserve.