4 Signs Your Inner Voice Is Toxic (Making You Depressed)

Do you have an inner critic living in your mind rent-free? Or is your inner voice gentle and encouraging?

We all talk to ourselves throughout the day. But sometimes we may forget to be kind to our own minds. Do you try to be polite and compassionate when you talk to other people, but not to yourself? Being nice shouldn’t be reserved only for others. After all, the way you talk to yourself can impact how you feel, how you see the world, and most importantly, your mental health.

Could your inner voice be making you depressed?

This article is here for you to help you recognize some signs of toxic self talk. Towards the end, you’ll find some tips on what steps you can take to help yourself.

1. Overgeneralization

“I never do anything right…”
“I always mess it up…”
“Nobody likes me….”

Do some of these phrases often go through your mind?

This way of inner talk is called overgeneralization. When you overgeneralize, you see a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat. You assume the worst, and believe that one little mistake equals failure.

For example, getting a low score on a math exam automatically means you’re terrible at math. Or maybe you go through a bad breakup, and start believing you’re bad at relationships in general, or even unlovable.

According to research published in the Biological Psychiatry journal, this type of thinking has been associated with anxiety disorders. If you speak that way to yourself too often, it takes a toll on your self-image. Thoughts like “I’m not good enough” or “I could never be successful” could keep you from fulfilling your potential and harm your professional or school life.

2. Personalization

Does your inner voice make you feel guilty? Does it blame you for things all the time?

This is personalization – believing you’re responsible for events that, in reality, are out of your control.

For example, your date gets canceled, and you instantly think they changed their mind because they’re not interested in you. In reality, maybe something urgent came up. But your toxic inner voice turns it against you.

A study published in the European Journal of Psychiatry found that personalization is generally connected to heightened anxiety. Another interesting study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts examined the link between depression and personalization, by studying depressed poetry writers. Researchers found a slight tendency for depressed poets to engage in more personalization.

But this inner talk is not poetic at all – it only makes you lose confidence and joy.

3. Mental filtering

Do you sometimes tend to focus on negative details? For example, when getting feedback from your boss or a teacher. The feedback may be generally good, but one little critique catches your eye. Would you instantly forget everything else, and dwell on that one negative remark?

This train of thought is called mental filtering – it’s like filtering out the positives of a situation.

In some cases, it may be hard to see positive aspects of things. But looking at things in negative ways can make you feel anxious and depressed.

Over time, mental filtering can become an automatic habit and easily grow into a pessimistic outlook. Researchers in 2017 found that this negative perspective makes you feel hopeless about life. It can also trigger feelings of sadness, disappointment, anger and fear.

A great way to combat mental filtering is practicing gratitude. If you’re interested in how gratitude works, feel free to check out this video.

4. Polarization

Polarization means you’re thinking about yourself and the world in an “all-or-nothing” way. You see things in extremes – they are either black or white, without a gray area between them.

For example, you may decide to eat healthy and cut down on sugar. But, one day you just can’t resist, and you take a bite of your favorite chocolate bar. So you think to yourself: “My diet is ruined now. I shouldn’t even try anymore.” Do you think like that sometimes?

But why would one cheat day mean that your whole progress is ruined all of a sudden? This type of thinking leads to unrealistic standards and it lowers your motivation. As a result, you’re unintentionally setting yourself up for failure.

Polarization can also hurt your relationships. That’s because shifting from idealizing to devaluing people (they’re either great or terrible) can make it harder for others to enjoy your company.

Plus, your eating habits could suffer as well! A study published in journal Eating Behaviors found that polarized thinking may make you look at certain foods as either good or bad, consider your body as either perfect or revolting, or eat in binge or fasting cycles.

How to help yourself?

So how do you help yourself when your mind wanders into this territory? First, you should pay attention to how you talk to yourself. It’s important to notice and realize toxic thoughts when they happen.

After you realize your inner voice is negative, challenge it. Take a step back and consider these questions:

  • Is there evidence that supports my thoughts?
  • Am I considering all angles or am I leaving things out?
  • Does everyone else see it this way?

Finally, reframe what you think. Research published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience found that reframing can be a powerful tool against toxic self-talk. It is a process where you identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive and empowering ones.

For example, instead of saying “I never do anything right”, try consciously saying something like “I am capable of doing things successfully.”

At first, it may feel silly talking to yourself that way. But, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry shows that with practice, this technique helped people decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. So at least consider giving it a try!

Do you resonate with some of these points? Would you like to challenge your toxic inner voice, and talk to yourself with love and compassion? Let us know in the comments!

References:

Caouette, J. D., & Guyer, A. E. (2014). Gaining insight into adolescent vulnerability for social anxiety from developmental cognitive neuroscience. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 8, 65–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2013.10.003

Casabianca, S. S. (2022, January 11). 15 Cognitive Distortions To Blame for Negative Thinking. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/cognitive-distortions-negative-thinking#list-and-examples

Dunsmoor, J. E., & Paz, R. (2015). Fear Generalization and Anxiety: Behavioral and Neural Mechanisms. Biological Psychiatry, 78(5), 336–343. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.04.010

Fazakas-DeHoog, L. L., Rnic, K., & Dozois, D. J. A. (2017). A cognitive distortions and deficits model of suicide ideation. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 13(2), 178–193. https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v13i2.1238

Goldin, P. R., Ziv, M., Jazaieri, H., Hahn, K., Heimberg, R., & Gross, J. J. (2013). Impact of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder on the Neural Dynamics of Cognitive Reappraisal of Negative Self-beliefs. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(10), 1048. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.234

Kuru, E., Safak, Y., Özdemir, İ., Tulacı, R., Özdel, K., Özkula, N., & Örsel, S. (2018). Cognitive distortions in patients with social anxiety disorder: Comparison of a clinical group and healthy controls. The European Journal of Psychiatry, 32(2), 97–104. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpsy.2017.08.004

Lethbridge, J., Watson, H. J., Egan, S. J., Street, H., & Nathan, P. R. (2011). The role of perfectionism, dichotomous thinking, shape and weight overvaluation, and conditional goal setting in eating disorders. Eating Behaviors, 12(3), 200–206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2011.04.003

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022, February 3). Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950

Stanborough, R. M. J. (2019, December 18). What Are Cognitive Distortions and How Can You Change These Thinking Patterns? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-distortions#mental-filtering

Thomas, K. M., & Duke, M. (2007). Depressed writing: Cognitive distortions in the works of depressed and nondepressed poets and writers. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(4), 204–218. https://doi.org/10.1037/1931-3896.1.4.204

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