Gain Control Over Negative Self-Talk

Blog-Gain Control Over Negative Self-Talk

Content updated from previous publish date.

“I’m so stupid.”
“I’m always messing things up.”
“No one will ever love me.”

Does this sound like your inner critic? We all have a little voice in our head that whispers—or screams—to us throughout the day. Sometimes, our inner thoughts help us make better decisions so we can keep on track toward our goals. Other times, however, our inner critic kicks into overdrive and spews automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that are toxic. Negativity is common, but it is especially prevalent in people with mental health issues. This negative self-talk can dampen our moods, ignite stress and anxiety, and hold us back from achieving our dreams.

If you’re riddled with ANTs, you can learn to fight back. Here are some of the most common types of negative thoughts, how they damage your mindset, and a simple 5-step technique to eliminate negative thinking patterns.

Negative self-talk can dampen our moods, ignite stress and anxiety, and hold us back from achieving our dreams. Click To Tweet


Negative self-talk is strongly linked to mental health issues, such as ADD/ADHD, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among others. The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that these psychiatric conditions are really brain health issues that can fuel negativity. Here’s a deeper look at the connection between negative thinking, brain health, and mental health.

  • ADD/ADHD: For people with ADD/ADHD, negative beliefs about their self-worth and capabilities are far too common. They become ingrained due to continual frustrations at school, at work, and in relationships. For example, an ADD/ADHD child or teen may believe they’ll fail in school, so they’ll give up trying. Or ADD/ADHD adults may tell themselves they are unlovable because they impulsively start arguments or say unkind things to their loved ones.

These individuals also often have to endure harsh critiques from others who don’t understand that ADD/ADHD brains work differently. The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that low activity in the prefrontal cortex is common in people with ADD/ADHD. This region is involved with focus, attention, impulse control, and follow-through, and when activity is too low, it is associated with trouble in these areas, which can lead to negative thoughts about oneself.

  • Depression: Individuals who are depressed are often mired in thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness. They can feel empty and tend to focus on the negative in most situations. They see the glass as half empty rather than half full.

SPECT scans at Amen Clinics show that the emotional centers of the brain—called the limbic system—are often overactive in people with depression. This heightened activity is associated with increased negativity.

  • Anxiety: People who are filled with anxious thoughts tend to feel tense, nervous, and panicky. Once anxious thoughts pop up in their heads, they can quickly multiply. These people tend to predict the worst, anticipating negative outcomes when there’s no evidence to support these notions. Ultimately, it makes people with anxiety doubt their abilities and fills them with a fear of failure that keeps them from taking chances in life.

On SPECT scans, anxiousness is associated with overactivity in the basal ganglia, important structures deep in the brain. They are involved in setting the body’s anxiety level, and when activity is too high it increases anxious and stressful thoughts.

  • OCD: People with OCD tend to be worriers and hold on to hurts from the past. They have trouble shifting their attention, so these negative thoughts run on a loop in their mind. This rumination can rob them of happiness and keep them stuck in a sea of negativity. Chronic worrying can increase stress and cause physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, and muscle tension.

Brain SPECT imaging shows that too much activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus is common in people with OCD. This is associated with rigid thinking and cognitive inflexibility, both of which keep people locked into their negative thinking patterns.


Negative self-talk impacts us in numerous harmful ways, and it all starts in the brain. Your brain is always listening and reacting to every single one of your thoughts. Your thoughts are based on numerous factors, such as sensory input, past experiences, the foods you eat, gut bacteria, and your brain health. When you have a happy thought, it triggers your brain to release chemicals that affect all of the cells within your body, making you feel good.  When you have a negative thought, however, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel bad.

Having a few negative thoughts once in a while is normal, but when your thought patterns are predominantly negative, it can have long-term impacts. Rumination and self-blame are associated with increased risk for mental health conditions, according to a study in Plos One. Negativity, worries, and stressful thoughts can also exacerbate existing psychiatric issues. And they can even lead to cognitive problems and memory loss. For example, brain-imaging research in Alzheimer’s & Dementia shows that repetitive negative thinking may be involved in the accumulation of damaging brain deposits typically found in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and may heighten the odds of developing dementia.


There are many forms of negative self-talk. Some of the most common types of gloomy, pessimistic, defeatist, and unhelpful phrases we tell ourselves include the following:

  1. All-or-Nothing: When you tell yourself that people, situations, or relationships are either all good or all bad
  2. Less-Than: When you compare yourself to others and think that you aren’t as good as others
  3. Just-the-Bad: When you only see the bad in situations, people, or relationships
  4. Guilt-Beating: When you talk to yourself using words like should, must, ought, or have to
  5. Labeling: When you attach negative labels to yourself or someone
  6. Fortune-Telling: When you predict the worst possible outcome for a situation with little or no evidence for it
  7. Mind-Reading: When you believe you know what other people are thinking—and you generally assume they’re thinking something unkind about you—even though they haven’t told you what they are actually thinking
  8. If-Only and I’ll-Be-Happy-When: When you argue with the past and long for the future rather than making the most of the present
  9. Blaming: When you blame others for your problems, or conversely, when you blame yourself for others’ problems


Defeating the negative self-talk that infests your mind takes work, but there is a simple technique that can help you learn to manage your mind. Here are 5 steps to combat negative thinking:

  1. Whenever an automatic negative thought enters your mind, train yourself to recognize it and write it down. This helps get the thought out of your mind.
  2. Identify the type of negative thought.
  3. Ask yourself if the thought is true.
  4. Ask yourself how the thought makes you feel, and how you would feel if you didn’t have that thought.
  5. Turn the thought around to its opposite and ask yourself if this new thought might be more true than your original thought. Find evidence that supports this new thought.

When you learn to become aware of negative thoughts and challenge them, you can begin to eliminate negative self-talk and speak to yourself in a kinder, more positive way that gives you more confidence, improves self-esteem, and motivates you to reach your goals.

ADD/ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I would like an appointment please


    Comment by Baha — June 1, 2018 @ 1:42 AM

  2. Nailed it!!!

    Comment by KATHY — June 1, 2018 @ 10:40 AM

  3. As I was reading the paragraphs above I was thinking, I do that. I’ve tried and tried to do the short exercise above but somehow the negative thoughts come as an all out assault on what I am trying to achieve.
    I don’t know how to slow down the onslaught to take one at a time and then I give up and the barrage stops.
    If I give into the negative thoughts I can somehow convince myself that the negative thoughts are just a part of my life.
    My wife is a good support but I feel she gets upset and think I like the negative thoughts. Maybe I do. Maybe they ( negative thoughts) are a comfort for me because I am use to having them and I don’t have to do anything to stressful to fight them off.
    As I’m writing this I sound lazy and maybe if I don’t do anything someone will do it for me.

    Comment by Danny — June 1, 2018 @ 1:54 PM

  4. Each negative comment is an opportunity to turn it around and use the force for good. Recognizing it by paying attention is where much of the battle comes.

    Comment by edward faust — June 2, 2018 @ 2:34 AM

  5. Talk about negative thoughts ! Right now, mine are so bad + so relentless that my stomach won’t un-clench itself and my breathing is very shallow — and it’s been like this for days ! i.e. — I REALLY need to go to The Amen Clinic but can’t afford it. I was wondering if they (Amen Clinic) ever “work with” a client who desperately needs to see them but who’s finances aren’t that great ? When I say “work with,” I mean — let them pay in installments. *if anyone connected to the Amen Clinic sees “this”, could you possible answer my question > do you ever “work with” a client ?

    Comment by Vicki Casson — June 2, 2018 @ 8:31 AM

  6. How can I find out more, I can really relate to that?

    Comment by Jim Misenar — June 2, 2018 @ 11:06 AM

  7. Number 9, blaming others, is appropriate—that doesn’t help.

    But add number 10, blaming yourself when, objectively, one tends to accept bullying and blame because it has become way to easy for others to target someone willing to accept the burden. Beat me up! I deserve it!

    When ADD#9 meets ADD#10 the result is eye-rolling.

    Believing in oneself and following a rational dialectic that sorts out where the need for improvement actually resides —and assigning the task to be better where it most belongs, at least in thought—is a new skill for all us self-haters.

    The Buddhist saying is true: your “tormentors” are your teachers. Are they right? Or not? But when they learn you are no longer a soft target…but self possessed, calm and articulate…the dynamic changes. It is the lack of respect that is at stake.

    That is the easy part. Getting some sleep is still tough. It takes time.

    Comment by Ed — June 3, 2018 @ 11:22 PM

  8. Hello Jim, glad you found this information helpful. For more detailed resources, you can take a look at our website at or books for additional reading at To speak to a Care Coordinator about our treatments and services, please feel free to call 888-288-9834 or submit this form to have someone contact you directly:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 4, 2018 @ 9:07 AM

  9. Hello Vicki, thank you for reaching out. We do offer Care Credit financing plans to assist in making payments towards our services. For more information, please call our Care Coordinators at 888-288-9834. They can answer specific questions to assist you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 4, 2018 @ 10:27 AM

  10. Are ANTs necessarily connected to ADD? I’ve never thought I had ADD but ANTs are very real for me.

    Comment by Kevin — August 8, 2018 @ 3:11 AM

  11. Hi Dr. Amen, Thank you, for a great article. I am being treated, for ADHD, This article was so informative. I have read many of your great books!. The Ants toward myself are still a work in progress!!! Thank you, for your great wisdom! Debbie

    Comment by Deborah — August 8, 2018 @ 6:12 AM

  12. Baha- Call and make it then. They gave the number above.

    Comment by Becky — August 8, 2018 @ 6:46 AM

  13. What are the steps to stop my fortune telling ANTS?

    Comment by Suanne — August 8, 2018 @ 7:52 AM

  14. I feel all of them thing’s listed above.I want to go back to school & get my ged and i want to go back to school for nursing but im scread because i feel like i can’t and because i been out to long.When i was in school i was in special classes.I went to the 12th grade but didn’t have enough credit to graduate.I always felt dum.I want to change that.Because i been working as a cna & hha for year’s and im tired of doing that hard work and because im getting older.Can you please help me.First i have to tell you that i have thyroid problems,fibromyalgia , very bad joint pain.

    Comment by Rose — August 9, 2018 @ 5:11 AM

  15. I live in Toronto, Canada
    Which clinic should I contact or go to?

    Comment by joan — August 9, 2018 @ 6:55 PM

  16. Where u able to recognize that all that was stated by u were negative thoughts but instead of saying the negatives you should look at all you said and ask yourself how could I make all I said be a possible statement… this is how it starts to work but first is to be aware u r doing it

    Comment by Rochelle Mason — August 11, 2018 @ 11:03 PM

  17. This is basic Cognitive Distortions, and training yourself to recognize them is Cognitive Behavorial therapy. The pioneer in writing about this is David Burns; “Feeling Good.” I buy copies and give to people.

    Comment by Jerri Lawson — August 14, 2018 @ 5:15 PM

  18. Well said. and Agree.

    Comment by Jan — December 21, 2019 @ 3:57 AM

  19. well put!

    Comment by Doug Morris — August 16, 2023 @ 6:12 PM

  20. Not sure if they have this yet at Amen clinics but having as many group therapy sessions as possible to help make treatment more affordable might help? Like online group sessions.

    Comment by Mic — August 24, 2023 @ 9:40 AM

  21. Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all people you actually understand what you're speaking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my web site =). We can have a hyperlink alternate contract among us!

    Comment by vorbelutrioperbir — November 26, 2023 @ 11:21 AM

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