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The Voices in Your Head: Tuning in to Your Self Talk

Self talk is the little dialogue you have going on in your head throughout the day.  It is extremely subtle and most people don't realize it's even going on.  It's usually a "tape" of what your parents, or whoever raised you, said to you while you were growing up.  If they were nurturing and supportive, your self talk probably is nurturing and forgiving.  But if they were punitive, verbally abusive, demeaning, belittling, negative, fearful or insulting your self talk probably is too.

Tuning in to the "voices in your head" will give you important clues about how you view situations and why you react to them the way you.  Becoming aware of your internal dialogue empowers you to edit and change it and in doing so change how you think and feel about what is happening.  This can be a lot of hard work and requires constant attention.  But the results are powerful. 

Self Talk can be either Healthy or Unhealthy. Recognizing the difference between them is crucial when working to adjust your Self Talk. Healthy Self Talk should be encouraged, preserved, and replicated. Unhealthy Self Talk needs to be analyzed for accuracy, then edited or eliminated.

Healthy Self Talk

Healthy Self Talk is beneficial. It is logical, rational, reality based, and accurate. Healthy Self Talk is calm and productive. It provides you with a useful way of looking at a situation that empowers you to act or helps you to cope. It allows you to feel good about yourself and confident of your abilities.  Healthy Self Talk doesn't have to be positive and airy fairy.  But it does have to be realistic and reasonable. 

Examples of Healthy Self Talk:

  • "Good job"
  • "I made a mistake, but it's not the end of the world"
  • "I've handled situations like this before."
  • "I can handle this"
  • "It's not the end of the world"
  • "I'm getting better"

Unhealthy Self Talk

Unhealthy Self Talk does just the opposite of Healthy Self Talk. It is irrational, not based in reality, and often terribly distorted. Unhealthy Self Talk is often negative, pernicious, demoralizing and debilitating. Name calling is common. Unhealthy Self Talk disempowers you from taking action and prevents you from adequately coping. It corrodes your self confidence and causes you to feel inadequate.

It is impossible to say how many clients I have seen through the years who have been totally devastated by the effects of their own Unhealthy Self Talk. Unhealthy Self Talk is often composed of illogical beliefs, distortions of reality, and outright lies. These distorted beliefs then lead to unpleasant feelings, like fear, shame, depression, or anger. This constant barrage of disparaging, negative messages keeps people from reaching their highest potential or digging themselves out of the rut in which they find themselves. It also deteriorates your self esteem to the point that you have no confidence in your own abilities. You then fail to act on things which you would if you thought about them differently. This failure to act further perpetuates the belief that you are not capable of acting, which causes you not to take action even further. It creates a toxic circle. My clients often get caught in this toxic circle without even realizing it. Not only have they been totally unaware that this is going on, they do not realize the extremely deleterious effect it has on their emotional states.

Many people are very aware of how they are spoken to by family members, employers, and other people with whom they interact. Few realize that they talk to themselves even worse. This awareness is hard to face. Even harder to face is the extremely negative effects of this barrages of insults and demeaning content.

Examples of Unhealthy Self Talk:

  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “You’re a failure.”
  • “You’re no good.”
  • “You’re a screw up and always will be a screw up.”
  • “You’re ugly.”
  • “You not lovable or worth loving."
  • “You’re so stupid.”
  • "I can't take this!"
  • "This is impossible"

I remember standing in my kitchen one morning fixing coffee. I was already running late and ended up accidentally spilling the coffee all over me, further exacerbating the situation. My immediate Self Talk was, “Great, so this is how the day is going to go.” Fortunately, I recognized that I had just written off the entire day because of one negative incident and I amended it to say to myself, “Great, this is a mess, but I’ll recoup and go on and see what the rest of the day brings.” Indeed, the rest of the day turned out to be fairly nice, and the coffee debacle was quickly forgotten.

To counter these very negative effects of Unhealthy Self Talk we must first become aware of what we are saying to ourselves; the things we say to ourselves, the tone we use, and the names we call ourselves. We must also be aware of the distortions, errors, and faulty logic in our Self Talk in order to correct it.

Listen to the voices in your head.  They may provide important information about why you feel the way you do.  Then make conscious decisions about them.  Are they healthy or unhealthy?  If they're unhealthy, make conscious choices to change them to something more productive.  You'd be surprised how much if affects your outlook on life and your emotional well-being.


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Lee Hefner

Unconscious self talk sabotages marriages when it directs spouses into acting out self-defeating behaviors. Negative self talk therefore robs partners of the joy and happiness that could be a part of marriage.

In our marriage coaching practice with troubled couples, my wife and I stress a simple principle that requires a awareness of self talk: Stop doing what drives your spouse away and do more of what attracts him/her.


Oh my goodness, this is so true Lee. And thank you for pointing it out. What affects us as individuals also affects our relationships; whether we are excessively insecure, jealous, negative, critical or whatever. Negative self talk can destroy not only your own self esteem, but impair an otherwise healthy relationship.

Thank you for your feedback.

Erin Merryn

You had a lot of great things to say in this post. I like the way you make people think about unhealthy and healthy decisions.

Erin Merryn

Great have a lot of great things to say on this should consider writing a book.


Thank you for writing this! I got quite tearful reading it because it's so weird to see my own behaviour described to me on the page. Of course, I've heard all about changing the negative messages to positive ones before - but I've never read anything that so accurately reflected the virulence of how I talk to myself and insult myself pretty much every waking minute of the day (out loud some of the time).

I'm confused about where it comes from though, because while my parents were quite fearful in their outlook, and a bit disapproving if I was not fearful too, they certainly weren't abusive or relentlessly negative. I should think it was 10% negative messages and 90% positive, if that.


Wow, thank you Erin. You're the second person to suggest that. I just might consider it!


Hi Anon,

*Shrugs* Well, sometimes the source doesn't matter as much as changing the course. Sometimes we take 10% negative messages, add a healthy dose of fear or low self esteem and build them up into 90% ourselves. But in the end the only thing that really matters is changing it. And seeing the problem is the first, and most important, step to fixing it. It sounds like you are well on your way.

Thank you for the feedback and good luck on your journey.


what about when you can communicate yourself with others? thru your mind??? is it just completly insane? because im going crazy over here...
it would really help me any answer

Sara Stryjewski

What if you're around someone who is constantly disparaging themselves and creating situations out of thin air that wouldn't otherwise even be feasible (ie. You're gonna cheat on me, you're gonna leave me for a Mexican midget)? What's a good way to dissuade them, and hopefully let them know that they're making all the negativity in their own heads?

Tanyi Junior

am just so grateful that there are people out there who have others in mind so much that one takes time to write such inspirational words and advice for the good of others...not only havee i learned to treat myself so well,i have also learned to be serious with whatever it is am doing in life so as to contribute in making the world a better place for us all.thanks writers,authors and people are wonderful.

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