Stop Telling Yourself That!
Fight Irrational Self-Talk
As human beings, we “talk” to ourselves almost every minute of each day. This is completely normal and it is our internal thought language. This is the way we interpret and describe the world around us. If our internal language, or our self-talk, is accurate and “in touch” with reality we tend to function adequately. If our self-talk is not reasonable and does not accurately represent reality, then we may be more prone to stress and emotional disturbance. This post will cover common types of irrational thoughts and their impacts on one’s mental wellness. It will also help you to learn how to identify and disprove these irrational ideas. I will do this by giving you, the reader, an example of a common situation where someone is using illogical self-talk.
Example of a Situation that Activates Illogical Self-talk
John, a college student, is in his biology class, and his teacher asked the class a question. No one volunteered so she cold-called him to share his answer. He felt as though he knew the answer, but he just didn’t want to volunteer. He shares his answer and the teacher tells him that he is wrong. She asked if another person would like to answer the question. John thought to himself, “why does this teacher have to ask such tricky questions and cold call on the students? I seem to always get called on when my answers are wrong. I should have studied more before this – maybe then I would have answered the question correctly and not looked stupid in front of everyone. I suck at biology and should stray away from any career that needs a biology background.”
Consequences of John’s Self-Talk
John felt anger towards his teacher and a sense of worthlessness. He felt nauseous throughout the day and didn’t want to participate in his other classes. When a classmate asked John what they did in biology he answered rudely and sarcastically.
Later in the night, John thought to himself that the teacher made him feel angry and stupid. The truth is that the teacher did not make John angry or feel worthless. It was John’s own self-talk that made him have these negative feelings and sensations throughout the day. His perception of what happened made him question his worth. In other words, his self-talk does not accurately represent the situation. The good thing is that irrational self-talk and its sensations can be changed.
5 steps for eliminating irrational ideas, according to the Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Davis and her colleagues.
Start by selecting a situation that consistently generates stressful emotions in you. In this case, John selected the event that previously occurred.
- Write down the events of the incident exactly as they happened at the moment you were upset. Be sure to include only the facts and not the feeling you had.
- “The teacher asked me a question and I didn’t state the correct answer.”
- Write your reaction to the experience in a journal. Make a list of all of your personal judgments, beliefs, worries, and predictions. Take note of which self-statements have previously been labeled as unreasonable/irrational.
- The teacher is mean and she set me up to fail. Everyone now thinks that I am stupid.
- Concentrate on your emotional reaction. Make a one- or two-word label that includes words like “mad,” “depressed,” “felt worthless,” “sad,” “scared,” and so on.
- I felt foolish and worthless because I couldn’t answer the simple question the teacher asked. She put me on the spot and that made me angry. She wants me to fail.
- Dispute and change the irrational self-talk identified by asking yourself:
- Is there any rational support for this idea?
- No, my feeling of worthlessness and anger is due to my self-talk/ how I interpreted this event. I convinced myself that I should be angry at the teacher and should feel foolish and embarrassed.
- What evidence exists for the falseness of this idea?
- I do well on my exams and quizzes, and the homework does not stress me out.
- I am not special, everyone makes mistakes and fails.
- What’s the worst thing that can come from this?
- It’s possible that I’ll be more stressed and tense.
- I might have to accept the consequences of failing.
- It’s possible that I’ll never fix the problem and come to see myself as ineffective in biology.
- What good things might occur if what I want to happen doesn’t, or what I don’t want to happen does?
- I might learn to improve my ability to deal with frustration.
- I might study more to understand this concept so I don’t get it wrong on the quiz.
- I might ask the teacher more questions.
- Is there any rational support for this idea?
- Now that you’ve thoroughly investigated the irrational belief and compared it to reasonable thinking, substitute it for alternate self-talk. Rather than preventing or avoiding the situation, it is more adaptive to confront it.
- The truth is I do not have the answers to all the questions in the world. I am human and I make mistakes, and it is okay to fail. This is what school is for – to challenge me. Failing does not mean I can’t try again. Life is a learning process.
- What I think, I feel. I won’t be stressed if I don’t think of negative ideas. In the worst-case scenario, I’ll feel discomfort, regret, and annoyance rather than worry, sadness, or anger.
Irrational ideas onset quickly and can alter your mood and behavior. I hope these tips can allow you to refute the irrational ideas you tell yourself. It takes practice to overcome these thoughts, so do not feel discouraged if you can’t master this technique quickly. Remember you are in control of your own actions, thoughts, and beliefs. What you tell yourself can reduce or cause stress. Take these tips and apply them in your daily life.
This post was written by Daneal, an intern at Immunize Nevada.
Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., & McKay, M. (2008). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook (6th ed.).