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Reducing the Intensity of Negative Self-Talk

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

Many people who experience depression and anxiety tend to experience some form of negative self-talk or have an unusually loud inner critic. Steven Andreas, in his book called “Transforming Negative Self-Talk” provides several strategies that help people creatively manage and de-intensify their negative self-talk.

When using these techniques in my clinical practice, I have found them to be quite effective in congruence with the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Patients who experience depression and anxiety are often not aware of their thoughts. Our thoughts are the way we communicate to ourselves in either a harsh and condemning way or in a helpful and compassionate way. Andreas discusses orienting patients to pay attention to the location, pace, and tone of their thoughts. Paying attention to these aspects of our thoughts helps us to build a unique awareness of how we think as well as provides us with a creative technique to help people manage their negative self-talk or inner critic.

When employing this technique, I first start, by asking the patient to take a few deep breaths and spend some time on getting the individual to relax the body. Then I ask the patient to shift their attention to their thoughts and to choose a self-defeating thought that they are able to identify and that is reoccurring. After they have done this, I ask them to find the location of the thought in their head, and whether the thought is in their voice or someone else’s such as a parent or significant other. When the patient is able to do this, then I direct them to move the thought that they are focusing on to their shoulder and then to a different part of the body. Once the individual has succeeded in doing this, I’ll then ask

them to turn their head or imagine that their thoughts are coming from a further distance away, or I will ask them to change the sound of the voice from which the thoughts are coming, that would make the thoughts less serious.

When I have done this with patients in my office the common response is that the thought becomes de-intensified and much quieter. Many people with depression and anxiety discuss how their negative self-talk tends to be loud and overwhelming, which often leads to panic and further anxiety or lowers their moods. After I use these techniques individuals tend to feel relaxed and make statements such as “that was very relieving” or “I haven’t felt this calm in a long time.”

The strategy above allows people to make the negative self-talk more manageable and give the person the ability to start processing through their thoughts. This strategy also creates space for the person to start balancing out their negative self-talk beliefs using other Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques that I use with my patients.

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