Learning how to challenge a negative inner voice is key to maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself. Everyone has their own inner voice – it’s the stream of thoughts you experience inside your own mind each day.
Sometimes your inner voice may walk you through the steps of something you’re trying to do. Perhaps your inner voice speaks up when you’re weighing the pros and cons of a decision you’re trying to make. Sometimes your inner voice can even be like your own internal cheerleader, recognizing when you do something well. An inner voice is a useful tool for having these types of important conversations with yourself.
However, sometimes your inner voice can become negative. When you experience a negative inner voice, that ongoing internal dialogue can become harsh, cruel, or pessimistic. Learning how to challenge your inner voice when it becomes negative is crucial to protecting your mental health and recovering from those difficult thoughts quickly when they happen.
What It Means To Have A Negative Inner Voice
Your negative inner voice is the stream of thoughts that arise from the part of your mind focused on anxiety and insecurity. The negative inner voice takes over when your mind begins to fixate on negative thoughts or possibilities.
When you’re overly anxious, worried, or feeling insecure about something, it invites your negative inner voice to begin speaking. This happens in the form of mental chatter that seems to be fighting against you rather than with you. Hearing your negative inner voice speak can be a rattling, unpleasant experience – it’s difficult to contend with a negative voice when it’s coming from within yourself!
Your negative inner voice usually involves a lot of thoughts that are so deeply rooted in anxiety and insecurity that they often aren’t based in any kind of fact or reality. For example, when a person is feeling extremely anxious about an upcoming event, their negative inner voice may begin to “chime in” with worrisome thoughts about everything that could possibly go wrong at the event.
The negative inner voice begins to chatter and vocalize those fears on a repetitive loop. Because the negativity is being repeated so much, it can be extremely challenging to dismiss or ignore those thoughts, even when you realize that you’re letting yourself worry over nothing.
Having a negative inner voice is a normal experience. All people hear from their very own negative inner voices at some point or another in life. Some people have a quieter negative inner voice and others have a much louder and vocal one.
Usually, issues with your negative inner voice resolve themselves with time and patience, but when that voice becomes too overwhelming, repetitive, and loud, learning how to challenge it becomes necessary.
What It Means To Challenge Your Negative Inner Voice
Think of your negative inner voice as the biggest and baddest bully on the playground. That bully is never told “no.” Because the bully is so big, bad, and scary, all the other kids are too frightened to ever intervene or challenge them. In fact, since the bully is so terrifying, they’re allowed to run rampant without ever being stopped or questioned. The bully can say whatever they want, and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process.
When you make the decision to challenge your negative inner voice, you’re standing up to your own internal bully. Instead of allowing those thoughts stemming from your negative inner voice to keep repeating themselves over and over again, morphing into something worse and more terrifying with time, you decide to speak up against them.
However, standing up to a bully (even the ones that exist inside your own mind) is serious business. It requires a lot of patience and determination to challenge the mental chatter sparked by your negative inner voice.
Because the negative inner voice operates with fear, anxiety, and insecurity as its fuel, it gains a lot of momentum that can be challenging to stop. However, with some practice, it is possible to begin challenging that negative inner voice and standing up to your own internal bully.
The Dangers Of Allowing Your Negative Inner Voice To Continue Speaking Without Any Intervention
When a person experiences a particularly difficult time challenging their negative inner voice, they can expose themselves to some hardships.
- Your self-confidence and self-image can suffer tremendously.
When your negative inner voice is allowed to run rampant, your self-confidence and self-image often pay the ultimate price for it. When those negative thoughts are allowed to multiply and repeat, they become the background noise you hear inside your mind all day.
Even if they are particularly absurd, when you hear those negative thoughts repeatedly, you begin to accept them as the truth. When those negative thoughts are about yourself, it becomes easy to start believing them.
- You miss out on a lot of neat opportunities and chances to explore.
A negative inner voice is skilled at talking you out of taking healthy risks and trying new things. When your negative thoughts focus entirely on everything that could go wrong if you try something new and exciting, you can convince yourself to avoid the experience altogether. Instead of letting yourself adventure and explore, your negative inner voice focuses solely on what could go wrong, causing you to stay away from the chance to expand your knowledge and grow as a person.
- Your stress and anxiety levels skyrocket.
When all you’re hearing is a constant, repetitive loop of negative thoughts all day, it’s easy to image how your anxiety and stress levels would skyrocket through the roof. When you’re already feeling worried about something, your negative inner voice may use it as an opportunity to create more anxious thoughts to bother your mind. This creates a really vicious cycle: Your anxiety causes your negative inner voice to start talking, leading to even more anxiety and worry, which causes your negative inner voice to get even louder.
- You miss opportunities to reach your highest potential.
Your negative inner voice can talk you out of a lot of good ideas and opportunities. When this happens, you aren’t only missing out on a chance to try something new – you’re also missing chances to grow and develop as a human being.
When you’re trying to reach your goals and achieve your dreams, there can be a lot of uncertainty and discomfort as you try new things and explore. If your negative inner voice keeps talking to you in a way that makes you “shy away” from those opportunities, you aren’t able to reach your greatest potential.
- You begin to believe any and all negative comments or criticism you hear about yourself.
Negative inner voices love any extra fuel they can acquire to grow. For example, if someone gives you negative feedback or comments, rather than brushing them off, your negative inner voice may “latch on” to that negativity and use it to generate even more negative thoughts about yourself.
Instead of processing negative comments or criticism in a healthy and productive way, you may find yourself using that feedback to fuel your negative inner voice instead.
- You no longer feel inspired to make positive changes in your life.
Your negative inner voice is pretty pessimistic. Instead of seeking ways you can make your situation better or happier, your negative inner voice doesn’t see any point in putting in that kind of effort.
Instead of seeking ways to cheer yourself up or “bounce back” from a tough situation, your negative inner voice feels comfortable allowing yourself to feel worse and worse without doing anything to improve those feelings.
- Your physical health begins to suffer.
In any situation where stress and anxiety are encouraged to rise, your physical health will take a toll. When left unchallenged, your negative inner voice can leave you feeling pretty crummy. For example, you may struggle to eat regularly, sleep enough, or feel motivated enough to exercise – these alone are enough to make you feel sore and sick.
- Your personal relationships can suffer.
Only listening to your negative inner voice can cause your relationships to suffer. It’s challenging to spend time with friends and family when your mind is constantly filled with negative thoughts. Rather than enjoying quality time with the people you love, you may feel too distracted or consumed with them to engage in relationship-strengthening activities or communication.
- Your motivational levels can plummet.
When your negative inner voice goes unchallenged, it’s easy to lose your motivation.
Listening to a regular flow of negative thoughts makes it difficult to focus on anything. Instead of focusing on meeting goals, completing tasks, and handling new challenges, you’re too concerned with the stress and anxiety brought on by unchallenged negative thoughts.
- You can develop a set of limiting beliefs about yourself.
Limiting beliefs are thoughts you develop about yourself that tell you exactly how far you can go. For example, if you begin to experience the limiting belief thought “I’ll never be smart enough to do that,” and you repeat it to yourself frequently enough, you’ll begin to accept that limiting belief as a fact.
Rather than challenging yourself to push forward and try what you don’t think you’re smart enough to do, you’ll go ahead and accept the fact that you can’t do it without trying.
Case Study: Understanding What Having A Negative Inner Voice Looks Like
Having a negative inner voice can vary greatly from person to person. To gain a better understanding of what this might look like, consider Michael.
Michael is a new entry level employee at a large marketing firm. He recently moved to a new, big city after finishing college because he scored his first position with this firm. While he’s excited to get started at his new job and explore his new city, he’s noticed himself experiencing a lot of hesitation and self-doubt.
In this new city, Michael doesn’t have any close friends or family nearby. His new home is a couple hours away from his best friends and his parents, so visiting them on a weekly basis is out of the question with his new job’s schedule. He sees some posts on a local Facebook group about some local meetups happening at some popular bars and nearby hangouts, but he decides that going to any of these events would be too stressful.
Michael believes trying to make new friends will take too much effort, and that the new people living in this big city won’t want to spend any time with someone from a rural community.
On the first day of his new job, he immediately felt intimidated by some of his new coworkers. Michael thought they all looked extremely professional and prepared for their new roles; it immediately caused him to feel subpar in comparison. “They’re probably all looking at me and wondering why I’m even here with them,” he thought to himself.
Michael notices that a lot of folks walking around this new city are extremely fashion-forward. He loves seeing the different styles of clothing, hair, and accessories people choose. All the different people and interests intermingling give him some inspiration for updating his own look – he even considers exploring some new clothing stores and barber shops in his neighborhood, but he hesitates yet again. “Those other people look amazing in those clothes and hairstyles, but there’s no way someone like me could ever pull that kind of style off without looking dumb,” he thinks to himself.
After a few months of living in this new city and working at his new job, Michael hasn’t made any new friends. He chats politely with a couple of his coworkers, but once the workday is finished, he doesn’t communicate with them any further.
He’s declined a number of dinner invitations, after-work drinks, meet-up invites for young professionals, and some other social events in his area. Every time he thinks it’s a good idea to try making new friends and meeting some new folks, his negative inner voice chimes in, making him feel too nervous and self-conscious to try.
Case Study Part 2: An Example Of Challenging A Negative Inner Voice
Three months in the new city have passed, and Michael reflects on the experience. He realizes the only times he felt truly surrounded by friends and people he could trust was during his two weekend trips back to his old city to visit his family and best friends.
However, he can’t visit them every single weekend, like he’d really want to do – that would require too much gas, money, and time commitment to achieve. Michael realizes he’s going to need to start challenging his negative inner voice to be bolder about making new friends and assimilating into his new city and work environment.
The next week, his job hosts after-hours drinks and snacks in the company lounge. Instead of retreating back to his apartment for takeout again, Michael forces himself to stay. He feels his negative inner thoughts begin to emerge: “These people aren’t going to want to talk to me outside of the job!”
Instead of letting that negative inner thought drive his decision making, Michael stops himself and challenges the thought by breaking down the facts of his situation. For example, Michael knows the following to be true:
- Everyone he’s met at work so far has been very polite to him
- One of his coworkers specifically asked if he’d be able to attend this after-hours drink session this time
- Michael would really like to mingle with some people instead of hanging out in his apartment alone again
When Michael thinks about the negative inner thought he’s having, he challenges what he actually knows isn’t true or provable about his thought:
- His coworkers are polite; of course they’ll talk to him.
- A coworker specifically invited him; this suggests that people want to talk to him outside of work-specific events.
- If he wants to mingle, he’ll need to face his negative inner thoughts by proving himself wrong and putting himself in a situation where he’ll be able to chat with and meet some new folks.
With his negative inner voice successfully challenged (and silenced!), Michael convinces himself to go to the after-hours drinks event instead of going home to be alone again.
9 Strategies For Challenging A Negative Inner Voice
Learning how to challenge your negative inner voice can be difficult. When you’re used to speaking to yourself a certain way, even when it’s harsh or negative, it’s difficult to change those patterns. It takes time, effort, and strategy to relearn how you should speak to yourself.
To make the job easier, there are strategies you can implement to challenge your negative inner voice.
1| Let your inner voice out of your mind – when you begin thinking negative thoughts, practice speaking them aloud instead of letting them stay inside your head.
It may seem silly to talk to yourself out loud, but you’ll likely find that your negative inner voice sounds pretty absurd when given a chance to actually speak out loud. For example, have you ever thought of something smart or creative to say…but when you actually said it out loud, the joke or statement didn’t quite land with other people the way you hoped it would? Often, your negative inner voice sounds the same to yourself when given a chance to speak out loud.
For bonus points, try doing this exercise in front of a mirror. Once you actually speak some of your negative inner voice’s thoughts out loud, it helps you realize how ridiculous and over-the-top most (if not all) of them really are.
Whether they’re bizarre, unlikely to ever happen, or just flat-out mean, you’ll realize how wild some of your negative inner voice’s thoughts are once they’re pulled out of your mind and into the open.
2| Get past your negative inner thoughts to find the truth.
Negative inner thoughts are often based in anxiety or fear, meaning they are not based completely in reality or fact. Often, negative inner thoughts cling to the “least likely but scariest” scenario, making your anxiety or stress feel even higher.
To challenge this negative inner voice, look past what makes those thoughts scary to find the truth or reality of what you’re saying to yourself. For example, consider this negative inner voice thought:
“My friend hasn’t called me all morning, so that means she’s probably really angry with me.”
Now consider some truths based in reality about this particular thought:
- Your friend may have worked a late shift last night, so she’s resting to recuperate.
- You haven’t talked to your friend, so you can’t actually know if she’s angry with you if she hasn’t communicated that with you.
- You aren’t currently fighting with your friend. You haven’t done anything specifically to anger your friend.
Based on these truths, it seems like the friend isn’t really angry – it’s more realistic to believe that your anxiety is spiking because you haven’t heard from her yet, which is unusual, but not a cause for panic or concern.
3| Discuss your negative inner thoughts with people inside your personal support system.
Your support system, or the group of folks you trust most to help you when life gets especially difficult, can be excellent sounding boards for your negative inner voice’s thoughts.
Instead of allowing your negative inner voice to chatter away inside your own head, reach out to someone in your support system. A close friend or family member can give you some better perspective on your current situation.
When you allow your negative inner voice to keep talking to you inside your own mind, you don’t get any fresh outlook on what that voice is telling you. Hearing a different person’s perspective can help you identify why that negative inner voice is wrong.
4| Notice what triggers your negative inner voice to start talking.
Have you ever noticed yourself quickly slipping into a foul mood? Perhaps you were feeling fine one moment, but in the blink of an eye, you feel your emotions dip down into a low, unhappy place. When a sudden change like this happens, it’s usually because of exposure to a specific trigger.
A trigger is something that causes a chain reaction of events to occur. For example, when you suddenly notice your mood shift and your negative inner voice start speaking, it was likely triggered by some external factor.
The next time you notice your negative inner voice begin speaking, pay close attention to what’s happening in your life. Did something specific cause your negative inner voice to speak up? Did something happen? Did a specific person ignite this bout of negative inner voice thoughts? Learning to identify your triggers is a powerful way to begin challenging that negative inner voice.
When you have a good understanding of what causes your negative inner voice to speak, you can learn how to cope with that trigger more effectively, avoid it, or otherwise prepare yourself for the negative fallout that accompanies exposure to it.
5| Make the conscious decision to be on your own team.
A negative inner voice pits you against yourself. When your own mind is rallying against you with negativity and unhappiness, how are you supposed to conquer it for good?
A great way to begin challenging that negative inner voice is to make the conscious decision to be on your own team. When those negative thoughts arise, stop what you’re doing and say something positive and self-affirming out loud. For example, you could use the following phrases:
- I am smart/good enough.
- I know that thought isn’t realistic.
- I am being mean to myself, and that’s not fair to me.
- This thought is really unproductive and unhelpful.
- I deserve to think better about myself.
- …and many more!
Whatever positive and self-affirming phrase you want to use will produce the same results: You’ll challenge the untrue, unkind, negative thoughts your inner voice is currently advocating and replace them with something better.
6| Separate your negative inner voice from your conscience.
Sometimes people develop the incorrect notion that their inner voice is the same thing as their conscience. A conscience serves as a sort of moral compass – it helps guide people toward helpful, positive attitudes and thoughts. When your negative inner voice chimes in, it isn’t a reflection of your conscience.
When you begin separating your conscience from your negative inner voice, it’s easier to understand how that negativity is critically affecting you.
Rather than accepting your negative inner voice as fact and absolute truth, you can begin to separate yourself from those thoughts because they don’t truly reflect who you are as a moral and just person.
Just because your negative inner voice wants you to feel bad doesn’t mean you should. You aren’t a bad person; you’re just experiencing some self-damaging thoughts.
7| Engage in some meditation and deep breathing exercises to quickly silence a negative inner voice.
Sometimes the negative thoughts spinning from your inner voice can quickly become overwhelming. When you feel like you absolutely can’t get a good grip on the things your negative inner voice is telling you, practice some quick meditation or deep breathing to bring yourself back into the present moment.
Ideally, you should find a place where you can enjoy a few minutes of privacy, such as a closed, darkened room. Once you’re able to separate yourself from the bustling stimuli of the world around you, sit down, close your eyes, and begin relaxing your muscles one by one.
Take in a deep breath, hold it to the count of four, and then release it again. Repeat this process and focus heavily on the counting aspect of each breath. Focusing on making your breathing even will help redirect your mind to the present task at hand.
Once your breathing is under control and your muscles are relaxed, redirect your thinking using another strategy to challenge the negative inner voice’s thoughts.
8| Every time something bad happens, try your best to find the lesson you can learn from the situation.
Negative inner voices feed off pessimism. When you find yourself faced with a setback or disappointment, take time to try reflecting on the incident positively. An excellent way to do this is to focus on the lesson you can learn from the situation.
Any time you fail or experience setbacks, you can find the “silver lining” of the situation by gleaning any valuable lessons learned. Instead of allowing yourself to focus completely on what went wrong and how terrible it makes you feel, pay attention to what that bad experience taught you instead.
Focusing on the lesson you learned from your bad situation is an excellent way to train your negative inner voice to be quiet. By extracting this nugget of wisdom from what happened, you can take that knowledge forward with you so you can avoid the incident again in the future.
Not only does this practice help you reflect on a bad situation in a positive way, but it also helps you process it – once the lesson is pulled from the incident, you can move forward from it with the satisfaction of knowing you likely won’t repeat the mistake again (and even if you do, you’ll be more prepared and know what to expect).
9| Separate feelings from facts.
When your inner voice starts chattering negatively, it’s tough to separate what you’re feeling from the facts of what’s actually happening. For example, pretend your negative inner voice is fixating on your fear of flying: You need to take a plane ride to your best friend’s wedding, but your negative inner voice is convinced the plane is going to crash.
Firstly, identify what you’re feeling versus the facts.
- Is it likely that you’re going to be involved in a plane crash? No. Plane crashes are pretty rare, and you aren’t going to be flying for a long time anyway because the trip is short.
- Do you have a fear of flying in planes? Yes. Every time you’ve ever had to board a plane, your anxiety skyrocketed.
- Did your previous encounters with your fear lead to a plane crash? No. You’ve never been involved in a plane crash. All your previous flights happened without a hitch.
- What’s more likely: Being in a real plane crash, or being scared of the possibility of experiencing a plane crash? Being scared is much more likely!
You can use this model to break down your negative inner voice’s thoughts to determine if they’re based more on fear or fact. More often than not, you’ll discover that your negative inner thoughts need fear to fuel them, and fact is rarely considered.
The Bottom Line
Everyone has an inner voice, and sometimes that inner voice can become quite negative. Having an occasional encounter with your negative inner voice is a normal part of the human experience, but when those negative thoughts become consuming and long-term, learning how to challenge them is necessary to protect your mental and spiritual health.
Allowing your negative inner voice to run rampant with no intervention can lead to serious issues and complications. Fortunately, it is possible to challenge your negative inner voice and silence it.
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