Your Self-Talk Could Lead To Depression

Updated on September 7, 2021 by Debra Atlas.

woman with negative self talk thoughts

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woman having negative self-talk in her head

Growing up, I was a tomboy – always on the go. But inside? I was a mess – painfully shy, feeling inadequate and feeling like the black sheep of the family. I thought differently and I looked at things differently than they did. And as the second child, I came after a big brother who was just this side of brilliant while I struggled to be average-ish.

I also struggled with depression, although I’d be in my mid-forties before I was diagnosed. A lot of suffering happened along the way. And my self-talk – that constantly blathering inner critic in my head – was sometimes so vicious I’d want to cry.

Self-talk is what we say to ourselves about ourselves and/or about our actions. Often extremely negative, the chatter reveals our frustration, despair, regrets and our doubts. We beat ourselves up with our self-talk. Those of us who live with depression find our self-talk eats away at our self-confidence and can lead us deep down into the depression pit.

Dr. Guy Winch says “calling yourself names in the process of self-examination, putting yourself down, and treating yourself dismissively and punitively adds no value whatsoever.” Negative self-talk, he says, will “set you up to make more mistakes and have more hurt because you’re undercutting your confidence, supersizing your insecurities, and sabotaging your motivation and determination.”

For years, my self-talk was like this:

“You are a Failure! And you’ll keep on being a Failure, no matter what you do or how hard you try!”

Life is tough enough without us getting in our own way. Negative self-talk will do just that.

woman having trouble to stay positive

Elizabeth Scott, MS, says “focusing on negative thoughts may lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness,” all of which has been linked to depression. Negative self-talk reduces our ability to see opportunities that show up or, if we can see them, limits our ability to take advantage of them. We just don’t have the energy to take action on our behalf when we’re depressed.

So what choice do we have? If our self-talk is constant, what can we do about it?

Plenty.

The first thing is to become aware that you HAVE negative self-talk. Most of us go around not noticing it and, if we do, we think it’s the honest truth. But our negative self-talk is our perception of reality, not reality itself. But there’s more.

We all make mistakes – errors in judgment; we forget things; we do something we wish we hadn’t. We’re human. But none of these makes us a bad person or makes us someone not worthy of love or of being successful. That negative self-talk is simply yapping and you’re not stuck with it…

Don’t get me wrong. It takes effort to shift anything, and shifting negative self-talk definitely takes work. But it can be done.

Here are the basics of how to help yourself make that shift.

  1. Start to notice what you’re saying / thinking. You can’t change anything until you know what you’re doing.
  2. Acknowledge how often you’re thinking / saying those negative thoughts. The more you do, the more obvious it gets.
  3. Begin to “catch” yourself. You’ll discover how pervasive your negative self-talk is.
  4. As you catch yourself, see how you could turn that negative into something different / more positive. In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) it’s called “reframing” – turning something negative into something positive that moves you forward.

hopeful woman playing in the sunset

Taking these steps may be uncomfortable but keep at it. The more you persist, the easier it becomes. And ultimately it becomes a new useful habit. Remember – would you let someone else talk to your best friend the way you talk to and about yourself? Probably not. So stop doing it! This may just help you step back from depression.

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