Interview with Emmanuel Rivera, LPC
When life has you feeling blue, just turn on some funky, high-beat music and dance your way into the sunshine. Who needs negativity when you can choose to live like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower? Just tell yourself that you’re strong, and your worries will— poof!—go away.
The thing is, this may not necessarily be the healthiest approach to life. Cognitive behavioral therapist Emmanuel Rivera, LPC, explains that it’s actually far more effective to reframe your mindset and balance your inner voice. Here he recommends how you can transform negativity into logical reflection, brainstorm solutions to negative circumstances, and employ positivity as an assistive tool to improve your mental health.
What is self-talk from a psychological standpoint?
Self-talk is the voice in your head that reflects on your behavior and situations. Many people struggle with negative self-talk, such as overly self-critical thoughts, which impacts their day-to-day life. Improving this mental voice is a constant practice, especially for those with certain mood disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s important to know that this voice doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It’s something that we create ourselves, and it’s influenced by a number of factors—our life experiences and upbringing, social and environmental factors, and trauma can all shape it.
How can someone improve their self-talk?
The most important change to focus on is making gradual improvements without denial. Cognitive behavioral therapists recommend several strategies for accomplishing this.
The first is mindfulness, which is not to be confused with meditation. Mindfulness is a state of nonjudgmental awareness that brings your focus to the here and now. Anyone can, and should, incorporate this tool into other activities. Slow down, breathe, and try to focus on on your senses. What do you see? How does your skin feel? If you’re feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts, a relaxed state of awareness can help calm that voice.
Therapists will also coach their clients to use a technique called cognitive restructuring to improve self-talk. We often feel our emotions without recognizing the thoughts and beliefs fueling them. With cognitive restructuring, you acknowledge your thoughts and then try to replace them with more balanced and reasonable ones.
So rather than giving in to extreme thoughts like “I humiliated myself in that meeting,” you should challenge them instead by asking if such negativity is rational. Find evidence for and against it—we also call this identifying thoughts and putting them on trial. For example, many people are afraid of public speaking because they fear judgment from their peers. But think logically about this situation. How badly would you have to perform to actually ruin your relationships or lose your job? How likely are those outcomes, really?
Socratic questioning—the practice of questioning your thinking until you arrive at a deeper truth—is another way to help address negative thoughts. You can learn which fears or bad memories are at the root of your negative thoughts; you might even discover that you’re hearing a parent’s critical voice rather than your own. A therapist can walk you through the process of Socratic questioning so you can apply it to your daily life.
Many therapists also recommend behavioral activation to improve self-talk. This is the practice of surrounding yourself with motivating influences, such as constructive friendships and hobbies you enjoy. By engaging with these influences, you “activate” more pleasant feelings. Your environment, which includes friends, family, work, romantic relationships, and even the media you consume, affects your overall mindset. Try to reflect on each of its aspects, and consider if they’re adding stress or negativity. Ultimately, improving your self-talk takes practice. Recite positive statements to yourself throughout the day or anytime you’re feeling down. You may not believe them at first, but that’s the power of repetition.
Are there limitations to what positive thinking can do?
In a way, yes. Positivity is just one tool for reframing your mindset rather than an outright solution. 34 Start Healthy starthealthy.com 35 Toxic positivity can lead to avoidance. In order to fix problems, you need to address and confront them, not just cover them with positivity. Try to determine where your negative thoughts are coming from. Don’t ignore them; acknowledge them.
Therapy is one of the most important tools to guide you through this process. With it, you can learn to identify the factors that created any negative, self-critical thinking you’re struggling with. What issues or conflicts in your life are affecting your mindset, and how can you find solutions to these problems?
How can someone achieve more balanced thinking?
Use logic. A lot of negative self-talk stems from thinking with just your emotional mind. But when you combine emotion with logic, also called the wise mind, you can achieve balanced thinking. But, again, it is a constant practice, especially for people living with a mood disorder—even an undiagnosed one. If you work with a therapist to balance your thinking, you can change your mindset as well as your daily life.
For more info, visit mentalhealth.gov