Negative Self-Talk: 11 Common Habits That Can Become Depression

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Posted: January 27, 2020

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


Do you ever notice your thoughts? Are they positive? Negative? If you have never stopped to listen to your self-talk, now’s the time! You could be experiencing disordered thinking patterns!

It’s Monday morning; 16 year-old Maddie hears her alarm go off for school. She hits the snooze button. When she wakes up again, she has 30 minutes before school starts! Maddie rushes out of bed, throws on whatever clothes she can find, and runs out the door. As Maddie is driving to school, she puts on her makeup which she knows she shouldn’t do. As she is driving, she starts thinking, “I look horrible. I cannot believe I slept in so late. I can never do anything right.” And so her negative self-talk begins.

When Maddie gets to school, she sees two Seniors looking at her. Maddie tells herself, “They must be thinking I look like a hot mess.” Maddie gets to her first period class on time, but instead of being glad about not being late, she tells herself, “I am going to fail this test. I did not do well last time. I should just give up on math.” At the end of first period, Maddie gets her test back and she got an A. Maddie thinks to herself, “This has to be a mistake. I could not have done so well.”

Can you relate to any of Maddie’s thoughts? The following some examples of negative self-talk (disordered thinking patterns). Do your thoughts fall into any of these categories?

Examples of Negative Self-Talk

1. Mind Reading

When you think another person has a belief or opinion about you that has not actually been communicated (Shapiro, 2008). Example: You were late to math class, and your teacher gave you a stern look. Now you believe he does not like you.

2. All or Nothing Thinking

You see yourself or your actions as all good or all bad (Shapiro, 2008). Example: If you get one question wrong on a test, you have failed.

3. Overgeneralization

If one negative or bad thing happens, you believe this negative pattern will continue (Shapiro, 2008). Example: You get up the nerve to ask a guy out on a date, and he says no. When thinking about asking another guy out on a date, you believe he will also turn you down.

4. Disqualifying The Positive (Mental Filter)

When you have a success or something positive happens, you tell yourself via your internal self-talk, “That’s just luck.” You do not believe you did something well and can continue to succeed (Shapiro, 2008). Example: You made the volleyball team despite 10 others competing against you and not making it. Instead of being proud, you tell yourself you only made the team because the coach likes you.

5. Magnifying

Taking one negative event and believing it is true for all future events (Shapiro, 2008). Example: During your basketball game, you miss two free throw shots. Now you believe you cannot make any baskets during the game. Therefore, you may tell yourself you should just sit out of the game.

6. Minimizing

When something positive happens, you self-talk to yourself that it cannot happen again or it is not true of yourself (Shapiro, 2008). Example: After winning a leadership award at school, you think, “I could not have won this on my own; this must be a mistake.” Or maybe you think, “This a one time thing. I am not a leader. I could never win this award again.”

7. Catastrophizing

You think about the worse case scenario for a particular event (Shannon, 2015). Example: You have to give a speech in English class. When practicing for the speech, you imagine yourself mispronouncing a word. Then you think about how everyone in class will make fun of you. Next you see all the students in your class telling the whole school. And then no one will talk to you. On and on it goes.

8. Emotional Reasoning

The way you feel is truth; allowing emotions to run your thinking (Shapiro, 2008). Example: You look in the mirror and feel disappointed. Therefore, you state, “I am a disappointment.”

9. Personalization

After a negative event occurs that you had no control over, you believe you were at fault (Shannon, 2015). Example: Your mom loses her job, and you blame yourself.

10. Intolerance Of Uncertainty

In any situation where the outcome is unknown or you do not have control, this triggers negative self-talk about worry (Shannon, 2015). Example: When you leave your house you double check to make sure the doors are locked. You think, “If I forget to lock the door, someone may come into our house and steal from us.” You find it hard to concentrate while you are away from home that day because you are fixated on this thought.

11. Perfectionism

All your work and everything you do has to live up to unrealistic standards (Shannon, 2015). Example: I have to get a 36 on my ACT or I cannot go to college. If we take a look at Maddie’s thinking from the beginning of this article, we see a lot of negative self-talk. When she states,”I look horrible. I cannot believe I slept in so late. I can never do anything right.” This is an example of overgeneralization. When Maddie believes the two Seniors think she looks like a hot mess, that is mind reading. Maddie thinking she will do bad on her math test because she did bad before is all-or-nothing thinking. Lastly, when Maddie does do well on her math test and gives excuses for why she should not have done well on the test, this is disqualifying the positive.

Now your turn. Write down your thoughts and see if any of them fall in the above categories.

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety or you want to talk more about these disordered thinking patterns. Ask your parents to contact My Counselor Online. We have many counselors who can help you in any situation you are struggling with.

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This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

About the Author
September Trent
September Trent

September Trent MS, LPC has a Masters in Counseling. She is also an Attachment Focused EDMR therapist trained by the Parnell Institute. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), holding her license in Missouri.

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