You know that internal dialogue that's constantly chattering away in your head? That's what's known as "self-talk," and it can be positive or negative. Positive self-talk often goes hand-in-hand with higher self-esteem and a brighter outlook on life. But if you have negative self-talk, those ongoing toxic thoughts can truly affect your mental health by bringing you down and filling your world with doubt and worry and anxiety. It just goes to show how much power your thoughts have, and how easily they can shape your reality.
"We absolutely have the ability to turn ourselves into individuals with constant anxiety, a depressed mood, an angry outlook, and a pessimistic view of the world," clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow, host of The Web Radio Show, tells Bustle. "Our thoughts drive our emotional experience. When we have thoughts of doubt, sadness, fear, and frustration our mood changes."
The good news is, once you become aware of your toxic thoughts, you can start working to change them. And that can mean improving your mental health. "Change your thoughts and you change your emotions," Klapow says. "Change your emotions and you can change your mental health." Read on for some common toxic thoughts that can cause some serious damage to your mental health, so you'll know just what to begin 86-ing from your brain.
1. "Everyone's life is so much better than mine..."
They say comparison is the thief of joy, but it can also ruin your mental health — especially since we often severely over-estimate what everyone else's life is like.
"Everyone has their own struggles and it's very dangerous to compare our lives to what we think others' lives are like," says therapist Fara Tucker, LCSW, in an email to Bustle "This is a set up to thinking that we are defective, deficient, inadequate, failing at life, broken... We have no idea what people are really going through."
2. "I'm such a failure..."
Not only is this a rude thing to say to yourself, but it can really hold you back in life, too. "This thought will creep into your brain and keep you from trying anything new," says therapist Amy McManus, LMFT. "If, instead, you think, 'I tried something but failed this time, you will not judge your own character, merely your own actions, and you will be free try something new another time."
3. "I won't be happy until I do XYZ..."
As psychologist Dr. Ariane Machin tells me, it's toxic to hold yourself back from being happy until that fateful day you achieve a goal or reach a certain milestone. It's totally OK to be happy now, and then even happier once your goal is met.
4. "This always happens..."
Using words like "always" and "never" can be more toxic than you think. "Life isn’t black or white, and when you think of things in these terms you will cut yourself off from all the nuances life has to offer," McManus says. "It’s much more helpful to think of things in terms of 'this time' or 'yet.'"
5. "I hate the way I look..."
It's normal to have a certain degree of self-consciousness, but try not to shame yourself 24/7.
"If you are unhappy with your body that is OK, but constantly shaming yourself will only make you feel worse," says NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. "Instead focus on what you do like about yourself, set goals to become healthier, and pat yourself on the back when you take steps to reach your goals."
6. "I'm not smart enough for this..."
Again, totally normal to occasionally doubt yourself. "But just because you may not be an expert on certain topics doesn’t mean you aren’t intelligent," Hershenson says. "You may just have other interests. Telling yourself you are not as smart as others will only make you feel isolated."
7. "There's something wrong with me..."
If you walk around thinking you're "damaged goods," expect it to take a toll. "I hear this a great deal from clients who feel defective," therapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW tells Bustle. "There is nothing wrong with them except for being a fallible human. Sadly, this sense of defectiveness infects everything they think, say, and do."
8. "Nothing ever works out for me..."
Again, using words like "never" can really hold you back, while also making it feel like the world is out to get you. "We say this from a victim mindset, which almost ensures that whatever happens, we’ll interpret an outcome as negative," Koenig says.
9. "I can't do this..."
This is a totally normal normal to have right before doing something new, but don't let it stick around. "We say this automatically out of fear when we believe we might fail," Koenig says. "We say it before we’ve even tried something. We say this when we interpret failure as negative and indicative of our defectiveness." And that's not healthy.
10. "Nobody wants to hear my opinion..."
If you have social anxiety, you'll be more likely to keep your thoughts to yourself. And that can become a vicious cycle.
As psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells me, "You will think of something to interject in a conversation, and then hesitate and not say it. This goes on all the time, and it is a very toxic and negative way of thinking that really feeds on and builds on social anxiety."
11. "I don't deserve this success..."
Whenever something good happens, do you immediately feel like you don't deserve it, or that luck played a role? "This type of thought is discounting the positives: You disregard or trivialize the positive elements about yourself, such as your efforts, attributes, qualities, or achievements," says psychologist Dr. Jenny Yip, PsyD, ABPP, in an email to Bustle.
12. "I should be doing better than I am right now..."
It's OK to want something better for yourself. But take the word "should" out of the equation.
"This type of thinking is based upon rules and standards that individuals create for themselves," says Nicole B. Washington, DO, MPH, in an email to Bustle. "In time, individuals start to believe that there are definitive rules to life and that if they don't follow the 'rules' of what should or shouldn't be done appropriately, that they are somehow deserving of negative things. This may lead to extreme guilt, anxiety and/or depression."
13. "He makes me act this way..."
If you don't handle something well, and immediately point a few mental fingers at the people in your life, take note. "When we blame others for our behaviors, we are in completely ignoring the fact that we are in control of our own emotions and behaviors," Washington says. "Yes, others can evoke certain emotions in us, but we make the choice on how we respond. When the response is negative it can lead to a lot of guilt and low mood."
14. "I'll never be good enough..."
Again, thoughts like these put the power into someone else's hands. Because really, who are you comparing yourself to? "Believing that you need to live up to someone else’s standards of what you 'should' be prevents you from figuring out who the authentic 'you' is," Oriana Murphy, LCSW tells Bustle.
15. "My life will always be hard..."
Toxic thoughts like these suggest permanence, or the idea that an issue you're dealing with won't over go away or improve. "This type of thinking falsely assumes that just because something is a problem now, it will always be a problem," Dr. Mike Dow, PsyD, PhD, author of the upcoming book Heal Your Drained Brain, tells Bustle. "Mood-congruent recall in the brain lights up negative memories in the brain, creating the illusion that you’ve always been stressed and therefore will always be stressed in the future." And that's just not true.
Thoughts like these not only hold you back, but they set you up for a stressful life full of anxiety, depression, and toxic assumptions. It can take some time to retrain your brain to have more positive self-talk, but it's definitely worth the effort.
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