We may not always be aware of it, but we go about our daily lives against a background of running commentary. Some of it is practical and useful like “I’ve got to post that letter on the way home”, but being social animals, a lot of it is dedicated to interpreting interactions with other people, from strangers you come into contact with, to work colleagues, acquaintances, and your inner circle.
This internal voice is called ‘self-talk’ by psychologists and it includes our conscious and unconscious thoughts and assumptions. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to turn to negative thinking, for example “Person X looked distant today, I must have offended him/her”.
If you are suffering from social anxiety, and are therefore probably afraid of being judged and rejected, negative self-talk is one of those self-defeating dynamics which reinforces this disorder. It will anticipate and amplify any possible difficulty you may encounter, predict an unhappy outcome, and act as a confirmation when you fail (in your eyes), feeding apprehension of the next social situation you’ll encounter.
Negative self-talk and body image are also related, distorting the reality of what we actually look like into our own negative self-perception.
Negative self-talk and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
Negative self-talk is a deeply ingrained bad habit and it can take a long time to rid yourself of it. Behavioral therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) play a crucial role in challenging the often erroneous assumptions which sustain negative self-talk and in re-educating yourself.
If you have social anxiety, then through therapy you CAN be ‘re-trained’ to look at the facts rationally rather than through the prism of your anxiety, and examine your own assumptions against them. To go back to the example above, you could be asked to think about whether you actually did anything which could have displeased Person X, and guided to realize that a) you can’t; b) there could very easily be another reason why Person X is upset, which has nothing to do with you; and c) if Person X is unhappy with you, what is the worst that could happen? – which is rarely half as bad when vocalized as it sounded in our head!
Challenging negative self-talk isn’t easy, but with practice, you can learn to redirect your thoughts towards more realistic and helpful patterns. When you feel yourself spinning into negative mode, ask yourself whether the situation will still matter in a few years’ time. A lot of my clients find that a really helpful thing to do.
Negative self-talk feeds social anxiety, so breaking the cycle is crucial!
What other ways have you found helpful for breaking negative self talk? I’d love you to share your own experiences.
All the best, Kyle