In our social media society, negative self-talk has in many ways become the norm, and it’s easy to fall into a pattern of constantly comparing yourself to others or setting unrealistically high expectations for yourself. While these practices masquerade as coping mechanisms or self-management strategies that push you to do your best, they can actually be detrimental to your mental health and personal growth. Here are 7 types of negative self-talk that can be making you depressed:
Perfectionism is setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and your work. According to Dr. Paul L. Hewitt, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, perfectionism comes from a combination of three sources: self-pressure, pressure on others, and social pressure (2020). Self-oriented perfectionists feel they are never good enough and equate their self-worth with measurable successes like making the honor roll or getting a promotion (Hewitt, 2020). Other-oriented perfectionists put these same unrealistic expectations on others and get frustrated with or reject them when they don’t live up to their expectations (Hewitt, 2020). Finally, social perfectionism stems from a perception that others (coworkers, parents, romantic partners) hold you to unattainable standards that you then try to meet (Hewitt, 2020).
Perfectionism is negative because it can lead to unhealthy emotional suppression, an inability to acknowledge personal wrongdoings, and a fear of failure, which limits opportunities for personal growth. Perfectionism has also been linked to underlying psychological, physical, and relational problems like anxiety disorders, migraines, and burnout (Hewitt, 2020).
Self-criticism is another type of negative self-talk. Examples of self-criticism include abrasive thoughts and comments about your appearance, physical and mental ability, job skill set, intelligence, or communication skills. Self-criticism goes beyond holding yourself accountable for your actions and becomes unhealthy when it starts to negatively impact your self-esteem (Musch, n.d.). Hits to your self-esteem can leave you feeling worthless, which can in turn lead to more self-criticism and a vicious cycle of criticism and lower self-esteem.
Another type of negative self-talk is self-doubt. If you often find yourself saying “I could never do that,” ask yourself why you feel you wouldn’t be able to accomplish that particular task. There’s a difference between setting realistic goals for yourself and doubting your current abilities or your ability to grow (Musch, n.d.). If you find yourself turning down opportunities because you’re scared you will fail, even if others have told you they think you’re qualified, you are likely struggling with high levels of self-doubt.
Creating worst-case scenarios in your head and jumping to conclusions about others’ behavior is also negative self-talk. While some level of preparation is necessary, over-thinking situations you can’t control is a waste of time and energy. Over-thinking can also cause you to judge others quickly, which can create tension with your family members and in your friendships and relationships.
5: Excessive Worrying
Excessive worrying is a type of negative self-talk similar to overthinking. Worrying is negative when it draws your attention away from the task at hand and sucks you into a repetitive thought process that serves no positive purpose. Uncontrollable worrying can also be a sign of anxiety disorders, so it’s important to recognize that not everyone can control their thoughts or stop themselves from worrying without help (National Institute of Mental Health, 2018).
6: Making Excuses
We all make excuses, and sometimes they are necessary. After all, we have to choose how we prioritize our time. But if you find yourself making a lot of excuses to others or yourself that you know could’ve been avoided, you may be succumbing to negative self-talk. For example, if you feel like you should be prioritizing something, like a healthier diet, daily exercise, or a better self-care routine, but keep making excuses and putting it off, you may be afraid of failure or change (Zakrzewsi, 2013). But by continuously putting off the first step, you are limiting your opportunity for growth.
Micromanagement is closely controlling every part of a project. When you micromanage, you don’t allow others to help you with your workload. You might justify micromanagement by telling yourself that you are the only one who can handle the task at hand, but by doing so, you put a lot of pressure on yourself and miss out on valuable input from others (Boss, 2015). Breaking out of the micromanagement mentality might start with acknowledging that just because others have let you down in the past doesn’t mean that they can’t handle responsibility now under your guidance (Canner, 2016).
How many types of negative self-talk have you experienced? Acknowledging your thought processes is the first step to changing them and removing a little bit of negativity from your life. Of course, some people have mental disorders with symptoms that include some of the items in this list and it may be extremely difficult for them to change their thinking without psychotherapy or medication. In any case, changing your thought process takes time. But if you need a gentle reminder about what qualifies as negative self-talk, refer back to this list and see how many you can spot in your daily life.
- Boss, J. (2015, Mar.). How to overcome the ‘analysis paralysis’ of decision-making. Forbes. Retrieved July 16, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffboss/2015/03/20/how-to-overcome-the-analysis-paralysis-of-decision-making/#cea3e9f1be5a.
- Canner, N. & Bernstein, B. (2016, Nov.). Why is micromanagement so infectious? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved July 16, 2020 from https://hbr.org/2016/08/why-is-micromanagement-so-infectious.
- Hewitt, P. L. (2020). Perfecting, belonging, and repairing: A dynamic-relational approach to perfectionism. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 61(2), 101–110. https://doi.org/10.1037/cap0000209.
- Musch, S. (n.d.). Overcoming self-criticism. University of Oregon. Retrieved July 16, 2020 from https://counseling.uoregon.edu/overcoming-self-criticism.
- National Institute of Mental Health (2018, Jul.). Anxiety disorders. Retrieved July 16, 2020 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
- Zakrzewsi, V. (2013, Dec.). How to Help Kids Overcome Fear of Failure. Retrieved July 16, 2020 from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_help_kids_overcome_fear_of_failure.