Am I Talking to Me?

The Power of Internal Dialogue to Help or Hinder Our Success

Good communication skills are high on everyone’s list of relationship “must-haves.” Successful communication can be described as the transmission of thought, feeling or action so that is satisfactorily understood. Usually, the skills referred to are of the interpersonal variety. I think it’s just as important to understand your internal communication, referred to as your self-talk,

Self-talk is defined as the ongoing dialogue we have with ourselves that determines our behavior and it turns out we talk to ourselves all the time. This self-talk both reflects and creates our emotional states so when the self-talk is negative we become more stressed, less confident and more concerned with what other people think.

We often tend to believe our self-talk is real and objective, not always aware that it comes from a feeling or belief we have. The good news is that we can transform our life experiences by learning how to defuse the power of negative self-talk.

This entry will look at what self talk is, how it works and describe 5 kinds of negative self-talk. Part 2 will describe 5 additional kinds of negative self talk and offer a way to turn negative self talk around into positive action.


In the memorable subtitle scene of the movie “Annie Hall.” Woody Allen (“Alvy” and Diane Keaton (“Annie”) are on the balcony off Annie’s apartment. With a cityscape in the background, their real thoughts are seen in thought-bubble subtitles (like those in foreign films) at the bottom of the screen as they carry on absurd, small talk banalities in their conversation about photography. The thoughts in the subtitles are closer to what they really want to be saying. Why? Because they stem from true feelings.

So one way to look at self-talk is as the expression of what we believe is true about a situation. Take the example of two people, one afraid of flying, the other not. Both are in an airplane that is encountering moderate turbulence. The fearful one’s self-talk is “this is very unsafe. We could crash. I’m terrified.” The other passenger, whose self-talk may be something like, “I think I need to go to the bathroom and will do so when the ride smooths out,” is calmly reading the paper. Two people, experiencing the same stimuli, having completely different responses because their belief about the circumstance they are in are completely different.


Self-talk appears in many forms. See which if any of the following descriptions reflect the kind of conversations that twirl around inside your head. 5 more examples and a way to turn negative self talk into positive action is coming in a subsequent post.


A phrase coined by psychologist Albert, Ellis, Awfulizing makes problems or annoyances into something much worse. It’s a way of magnifying problems that tends to hide the positive or the neutral aspects of our experience. Believing a situation is awful will make it feel that way. Awful, horrible, and terrible generally imply 100% negative experiences. Very few experiences are fully awful. Most can be just as easily categorized “inconvenient,” “difficult” “tough” or a “hassle.”


You are catastrophizing when you think that the worst possible outcome will happen when anticipating danger or difficulty. In truth, rarely does the worst happen. As Mark Twain said, “I’ve been afraid of many things in my life. Most never happened.” What does your self-talk scream at you when you are awakened by a phone call in the middle of the night? Usually it’s something like “there’s been an accident.” In reality, the most common cause of a phone ringing in the middle of the night is a wrong number! Yet, few of us wake up shouting, “Wrong number!!!!”


Overgeneralizing is taking one event or example and expanding it way beyond the evidence to all or most such things. Phrases like, “they all do that,” “it always happens like that to me,” and “I can’t catch a break,” are examples of overgeneralizing. Markers of overgeneralized thinking are words like “always”, “never” and “every time.” Stereotypes are byproducts of over generalization.


All-or-nothing thinking. Polarized thinking results from the tendency to go to extremes. Things are classified as being either good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, friend or foe. Challenge this thinking by recognizing that few things are truly black and white.


Trying to motivate yourself with ‘shoulds’, including comparing yourself to perfectionist images in your mind. Too often we judge our own or another’s behavior by saying what “should have been done.” That’s like closing the barn door after the horse has run away. “Should have done” doesn’t solve the problem. “Should” self-talk is never about the present. It is either a projection into the future or a judgment of the past.