What is Negative Self Talk and Stinking Thinking 

By Val Silver

Are you plagued by negative self talk and the stinking thinking behind it? These bothersome, debilitating patterns compromise your quality of life. They keep you in stress, distress, and feeling bad about yourself, your circumstances, and others. 

You don't have to victimize yourself this way. This damaging mental chatter has no business dominating your mind. A certain level of negative thinking is normal. But when you are barraged by self-criticism or a dismal view of the world and almost everyone in it, that can make you miserable. Deeply held negative beliefs, especially when unconscious, stress you out, damage relationships, and limit your potential for health and happiness. 

stinking thinking and negative self talk

How negative self talk and limiting beliefs are acquired

There is a biological reason for negative self talk. It is part of brain's wiring for safety and survival. Parts of your subconscious mind attune to the negative in order to alert you to danger. Most of us indulge in some stinking thinking about ourselves, a situation, or others throughout the day. 

Because modern humans no longer have to constantly be on alert for predators, the ever-vigilant amygdala creates mountains out of molehills in relationships and life circumstances. Left unchecked, it can turn minor annoyances and imperfections into consuming major emotional events.  When acted on, they lead to unhappiness, compromised health, strained relationships, and reactive decisions and actions you may later regret.  

In addition to this innate tendency, you can also thank  unconscious mind programming for your troubling thought patterns. So-called truths about who you are, your worth, and your capabilities are primarily acquired between birth and six years old. you. This firmly laid foundation of mindset patterns, positive and negative, will control your thinking and behavior for the rest of your life unless you change them. 

How does this happen? Young children up to six years old have brainwave frequencies that make them especially conducive to programming, especially from authority figures. They readily download 'facts' about who they are, others, and life based on their observations and what they are taught. This information forms the basis of beliefs and shapes personality, thoughts, emotions and feelings, and subsequent actions. 

In addition, traumatic experiences cause instant, lasting imprints at any age. 

How negative thinking gets ingrained in your mind 

The brain creates neural pathways according to your thoughts. These pathways are strengthened and can even double in the span of an hour with repetition. Now get this - in order to have enough building blocks for this pathway, it will disassemble one that is not in use. So if you regularly focus on what makes you angry, you may find more opportunities to get angry while your loving thoughts diminish.

As your brain changes, so do your cell receptors. In a way,  your body becomes addicted to those feelings and demands more chemicals from your brain to induce those feelings. So when you notice that you are caught in a vicious cycle of negative self talk and unhappy emotions, you are right. 

This cycle of repetition and programming starts at birth and even in utero.

Children grow up hearing and internalizing an abundance of negative self talk and limiting beliefs. They hear and see their parents, relatives, TV personalities and teachers focusing on bad news. Remember those big red circles and checks for wrong answers? The disapproving glances? The outright teasing and bullying? What registers in the mind is that I'm stupid, no good, unloved, not important or unworthy. Those neuro-pathways become more entrenched and connected to other pathways. 

Add to this that children want to emulate their people. They are also adept at drawing their own conclusions based on their observations and interpretation of the world, sometimes erroneously.

An example of unintended stinking thinking

grandmother and grandson, love

At about five years old, my youngest son illustrated how easily stinking thinking can take root in your mind.

He felt hurt because he believed his grandmother, favored his older brother. Why? Because she always kissed the eldest boy goodnight first. 

When he shared this with my mother, she felt terrible. She told him that she just naturally climbed up to the top bunk before coming down to kiss him on the bottom bunk. That thought never occurred to him.

I hate to think how this may have harmed their loving relationship and his self-worth had he not spoken up, been listened to, and given the first kiss every other night after that. 

How stinking thinking sounds

Stinking thinking often sounds like put downs of self and others, limitation, and unrealistic fear. It may sound like the churning of worry or a hateful blame-ridden barrage. You may seethe with jealousy or burn with shame. The words you tell yourself make you feel badly toward yourself and others.

A common type of negative self-talk is voiced by "the Critic". 

The Critic

The Critic is a master of negative self-talk. It is the voice inside your head that puts you down and tries to stop you from venturing outside your comfort zone.  Listen for the Critic when you are blaming or complaining. It may also be behind worry and procrastination. The critic often takes the tone of a past or present authority figure in your life. It says:

  • "You're not good enough." 
  • "That's dumb." 
  • "You can't do that." 
  • "You did it wrong, again." 
  • "What were you thinking, Idiot?" 
  • "Why would you do such a thing?"

This inner voice may not be trying to hurt you. On the contrary, it may be a misguided way of verbalizing fear so that you avoid taking risks. Ensuring your survival is a main job of your unconscious mind. It just isn't doing it in a positive way. Nor does it realize that some of the new experiences it tries to keep you from are not a threat to your safety Or that they may actually be in your best interest. 

The Overgeneralizer

This voice is a close relative of the Critic. 

Overgeneralizing is a common negative self-talk habit. It sounds like this:

  • She is always sarcastic...I always make mistakes...
  • He never helps me....Things never go right for me...

The truth is that someone we are criticizing is rarely "always" or "never". Nor is anyone ever "always nice" or "never wrong". 

The Manipulator

Stinking thinking can be insidious - subtle and crafty - like the witch offering Snow White an apple that only she knew was poisoned.  Manipulators twist words and play on emotions to get what they want. This kind of self-talk is a way to keep you in the same old, same old pattern.  

"Oh, come on, you know you love it, just have one bite of this cookie, one sip of booze, one puff of a cigarette, just this one more time...It tastes so good, it will help you relax...No one will know...you can diet, quit another time..." 

It can also sound like bargaining. "If you clean the kitchen now, you can relax in this afternoon." OR "Go ahead, buy it, think about how good it will feel."

Manipulation is different than giving yourself a reward, even though the words may sounds the same. The energy and intent behind it is to control, not to honestly encourage and support growth and success. 

The Puffed-up Ego

Negative self-talk can also masquerade as exaggerated or positive thinking. 

For example, telling yourself you are worthy of love, good enough, unique, and other healthy self-talk is a good thing. They are true. It is quite another thing to pump yourself up with thoughts of superiority- that you are the smartest, most beautiful, richest, or most deserving of all. These negative thought patterns are sure signs of low self-esteem or narcissism. 

Such talk can even backfire.

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck points out that children who are told they are smart or talented, and believe that self-worth and success are based on fixed attributes are least likely to excel or stay at the top. They are afraid to take risks because they may fail and crush their fragile self-concept. Therefore, they limit themselves to what is easy. They don't apply extra effort, take risks, or face challenges in order to improve and grow. Children and adults with this fixed mindset believe risking failure and needing to try hard means they are not smart after all, and that is the biggest risk of all.

Other Negative Thinking Patterns

Here are three other common patterns to watch for.

  • Catastrophizing - anticipating the worst thing that can happen in a situation. 
  • Black and White Thinking - There is no middle ground, no gray. Something is either right or wrong, bad or good, yummy or yucky.   
  • Personalizing - Everything is about you or because of you. For example: If someone is crabby to you, you must have done something wrong. 

Negative self talk and the law of attraction

There is a common misperception among law of attraction fans that we should not acknowledge our negative self talk and beliefs. We must only focus on the positive when trying to change our reality because "as a man thinks, so he is".

This is true. What you focus your energy on is what you attract more of, especially when thoughts are paired with emotion.

But herein lies the glitch.

Lying to yourself and living in denial may pump up your ego, but it is not reality and it is not healthy. You are not fooling your subconscious. It knows and aligns with your true beliefs.

To make matters more difficult, you may not know what all of those beliefs are. You send more energy and attention to thoughts and emotions when you try to repress them. What you resist, persists. You add fuel to the fire and create more of what you do not want. Acknowledge first. Then work on creating new thoughts. 

This brings us back to "As a man thinks, so he is."

That statement is true but it is not referring to the conscious mind. It really should read:

"As a man thinks in his subconscious mind, so he is."

You can tell yourself all day long how healthy and happy you are, but it will bacfire if your unconscious negative self talk is countering with:

"No you're not, who are you trying to kid?" This is the message you will be reinforcing. This is the negative self-talk you would do well to acknowledge first.

About random negative self-talk

Do not concern yourself with random thoughts. Positive or negative, they are not likely to change the course of your life. Thinking such thoughts is what your brain does. They do not activate the law of attraction unless you have them often with feeling (in which case they aren't random!)

Attend to thoughts that are worthy of your attention and dismiss those that are irrelevant. Realize that occasional negativity is not bad. Sometimes, pessimism is important and can be used to your advantage by propelling you away from danger or helping you navigate wisely towards what you want. 

On the other hand, pervasive, fixed negative mindset patterns  that make you miserable, derail your dreams, and keep you stuck in old habits do require your attention. It is within your power to change them. You begin to heal when you acknowledge your stinking thinking and emotions, and fully feel the accompanying sensations manifesting in your body. It is healthy to acknowledge the truth.  

Related Pages

Steps to shift your negative self talk

Guide to mental and emotional well-being

Negative self-talk page updated 12/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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