Rewriting Inner Narratives: Challenging Negative Self-Talk Through Narrative Therapy

September 11, 2023
5 mins read
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Rewriting Inner Narratives: Challenging Negative Self-Talk Through Narrative Therapy
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Last Updated on September 11, 2023 by Randy Withers, LCMHC

Self-talk is the mental chatter that helps you solve your problems, make big decisions, and make sense of the world around you. When it’s positive, this inner voice can help motivate you to reach your goals or face challenges in life.

However, self-talk can also be negative, convincing you that you are not good enough. This article will help you understand how you can challenge negative self-talk through an approach called narrative therapy

Rewriting Inner Narratives: Challenging Negative Self-Talk Through Narrative Therapy
Rewriting Inner Narratives: Challenging Negative Self-Talk Through Narrative Therapy

What is Negative Self-Talk?

Negative self-talk is a pessimistic and self-deprecating way of talking to yourself. This is when your inner voice focuses on the bad things in your life. It can lower your self-esteem, limit your confidence, and increase your stress.

Examples of Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk can take on several forms. It can be the result of thinking errors, also known as cognitive distortions. These unrealistic and irrational thoughts lead you to view things negatively than they actually are. Cognitive distortions can convince you to believe that your negative thoughts are true even if they’re not. 

Below are some examples of cognitive distortions that may be causing your negative self-talk:

Personalization

Personalization is a cognitive distortion where you take things personally, even if they’re not related to you. This pattern of thinking may lead you to believe that you are the cause of negative events or circumstances, even if you don’t have evidence to support your belief. You might often blame yourself for negative situations that are not in your control. 

For example, a mother might blame herself for her daughter’s sickness. She’s convinced that she hasn’t taken care of her daughter properly, making her conclude that she’s a bad mother — even if there is no evidence to support it. Notice that this involves negative self-talk, along with feelings of guilt and shame.

Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is a thinking error when you automatically assume the worst-case scenario when an unpleasant event happens. Additionally, it is also worrying about a disastrous outcome because of a choice you make. Thinking this way can lead to higher stress levels, anxiety, and depression. 

For example, an office worker makes a minor mistake at work. They might think, “I made a big mistake. I will surely get fired, then I will become the laughing stock among my peers.” By exaggerating the consequences of a small setback, this kind of negative-self talk can unnecessarily cause suffering. 

Filtering

Mental filtering is a faulty thought pattern wherein you filter out the positive aspects of a situation and focus on the negative ones. By dwelling on negative things, you draw out your inner critic and produce self-defeating thoughts such as, “I am not good enough” or “I can’t do anything right.” People with mental filters will tend to notice all the wrong things, which can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. 

For instance, an honor student who usually gets an A gets a C on the test. With mental filtering, they tend to ignore all the good grades they received in the past and think that they are a bad student. This kind of belief leads them to focus on one negative event and ignore their previous accomplishments. 

Disqualifying the Positive

Similar to mental filtering, disqualifying the positive is a thinking pattern wherein you disregard positive things in life. A person who disqualifies the positive can transform neutral and positive situations into negative ones. 

For example, a musician just finished a performance on stage. After being praised by his peers, he responds by saying, “Anyone can do that!” or “Oh no, I made mistakes while performing.” He thinks that his peers are just being nice and trying to make him feel better.

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Why is It Important to Address Negative Self-Talk?

When these negative ideas become a constant part of your life, they can lower your self-esteem and cause unnecessary anxiety, depression, and stress. These self-defeating thoughts can affect your confidence in your abilities, decrease your motivation, and prevent you from enjoying positive experiences in life. 

Additionally, negative self-talk can cause perfectionism, wherein you believe that things are great only when they’re perfect. This can lead to fear of failure which can stop you from striving to achieve positive things in your life. Other than that, it can cause feelings of unworthiness when you believe that ‘perfect’ is the only acceptable thing.

Understanding Narrative Therapy

A narrative is a story or an account of events and experiences. How you interpret your life can affect your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Some narratives can be helpful, but when you misinterpret or misunderstand your narrative, it can lead to mental distress.

Narrative therapy was developed in the 1980s by therapists Michael White and David Epston. It is a type of therapy that aims to separate a person from their problem through a non-blaming, empowering, collaborative, and non-pathologizing approach. 

In narrative therapy, you view events in your life as stories. By separating your problems from your identity, it helps you see that you’re the ultimate expert in your life. Because you have authority in your life, you can use your skills to minimize your problems. 

There are various techniques used in Narrative Therapy:

  • Putting together the narrative: This involves telling your story and bringing up difficulties you are facing. This allows you to understand how you interpret your narrative. As you listen in on your story, you become an observer that can work with the therapist to recognize dominant and problematic themes. 
  • Externalizing the problem: Externalization is the process of separating yourself from your problems. This can help you view your difficulties from an objective and non-judgemental perspective. This way, you can realize that you are capable of change.
  • Deconstruction: By deconstructing your narrative into smaller parts, you can clarify the problem and make the process less overwhelming.
  • Unique outcomes: Narrative therapy can help you realize that you can change the narrative of your life. With the help of a therapist, you may be able to see alternative solutions and narratives that you might not have thought of. 

Challenging Negative Self-Talk Through Narrative Therapy

Negative self-talk is a self-deprecating way of talking to yourself. It leads you to identify yourself with your problems and causes you to produce self-defeating thoughts such as, “I am useless” or “I can’t do anything right.” 

Narrative therapy is useful for anyone who is struggling with their negative thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It can help you challenge problematic stories that prevent you from living your best life. By externalizing the problem, you gain a more accurate perspective of the situation. 

This type of therapy can help you challenge your inaccurate and unhealthy ways of thinking and open your mind to alternative stories that are more realistic and positive. Additionally, it can help you stop the practice of seeing yourself as the problem. 

Negative self-talk can aggravate mental health conditions such as depression. According to a 2015 study in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, narrative therapy can help depressed people focus on positive experiences and develop a more affirmative story about their life. This can be helpful because focusing on positive emotions is important in depression treatment.

Additionally, the International Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences published research that suggested avoiding cognitive errors with the help of narrative therapy can help reduce depression in children. Through storytelling, children can learn how to see events from alternative and more positive angles. 

Final Thoughts

Negative self-talk can occur when you view problems and difficult situations more negatively than they are. It can lead you to construct unrealistic and inaccurate stories about yourself and your life. 

You can start challenging negative self-talk through narrative therapy. With the help of a therapist, you can separate your problems from your identity. This allows you to see alternative stories and empower you to make positive changes in your life. 

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Michael Vallejo

Michael is a Child & Family Therapist with a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through Mental Health Center Kids he hopes to support other therapists, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals with visually appealing online resources to support the well-being of kids in their care.

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Randy Withers, LCMHC

Reviewed for accuracy by Randy Withers, MA, NCC, LCMHC, LCAS. Licensed Therapist and Managing Editor of Blunt Therapy

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