Negative Self-Talk, or How To Grow Weeds


How’s Your Self-Talk?

I love this sign, because it’s a perfect illustration of self-talk.  And even though I had been a Christian for many years, the only thing growing in my mind was weeds.

Self-talk is a term frequently found in many of today’s self-help books.  But back in the 1980s when I first started counseling, the term was not so common.  In fact, I had never heard of it.  When my counselor asked how my self-talk was, I thought he was asking me if I was hearing voices!

After he got over his laughter, he explained to me that self-talk is an inner dialogue that goes on in your mind all day, every day.  We all experience this.  It’s like talking to yourself.  (Yes, I know what they say about people who talk to themselves, but that’s not what we’re discussing here.)

I like fellow blogger Caren Fehr’s definition.  In her post “The What, How + Why of Biblical Self-Talk” she explains,  “Self-talk is our internal dialogue.  It’s influenced by our subconcious mind.  It reveals our thoughts, beliefs, questions, and ideas.”

I had to admit I had a lot of self-talk going on at that time.  And just about all of it was negative.  Much of what I was hearing in my head was what others had told me:

  • You don’t belong
  • You’re stupid
  • You’re not as good as we are
  • You’re ugly
  • Nobody likes you
  • You’re a loser

Their cruel comments reverberated in my brain.  It was like they were on a continuous loop that never stopped playing.

Sound familiar?  Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing.

Maybe you still are.  If that’s you, I’m here to tell you that change is possible!  We’ll get to that in a bit.

But first we need to take a closer look.

The Roots and Effects of Negative Self-Talk

As I mentioned above, one of the roots of negative self-talk is the words spoken over us by others.  These may be parents, other authority figures such as teachers, or our peer group.  Traumatic events and social media may also affect our self-talk.

It’s important to note that we’re not talking about an occasional bad thought.  Negative self-talk is a persistent cycle of self-criticism.  It is a recurring and continual pattern of thinking which affects us mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Blogger and lifecoach Felicia Rundgren Landenberg explains that negative self-talk is fueled by cognitive distortions.  “Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that are unrealistic or irrational and can lead to negative perceptions of ourselves or the world around us,” she says.  

Psychologist Albert Ellis refers to negative self talk as irrational beliefs.  So these thoughts are our perceptions, and they aren’t rooted in reality but rather in false beliefs.

Negative self-talk can take various forms:

  • Self-criticism — this is the most common form, and the most destructive
  • Catastrophizing — automatically jumping to the worst possible outcome in a situation, like Murphy’s Law
  • Perfectionism — setting impossible standards that lead to disappointment and stress
  • Personalizing — blaming yourself for things beyond your control
  • Polarizing — seeing everything in extremes, with no middle ground

Regardless of what form it takes, negative self-talk is basically self-sabotage, what Joyce Meyer calls “stinking thinking.”

And the effects of such stinking thinking can be devastating.  They include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor self image
  • Low self esteem
  • Lack of confidence
  • Difficulties in relationships
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weakened immune system

Negative self-talk affects every area of life.  It may reduce your productivity because of brain fog and difficulty concentrating.  It may prevent you from trying new things or going after other opportunities.  Relationships may be affected because of your perception of being unworthy, unequal, or unloveable.  It can even contribute to behavioral issues such as substance abuse or eating disorders.

The Need For Some Weed-Whacking

When I began to go through counseling, I learned that my life had been consumed and controlled by this type of mindset.  My thoughts kept me trapped.  My thoughts determined my emotions, which in term determined my actions and reactions.  They kept me in a state of paralysis, preventing me from growing or moving forward.

The Bible says in Proverbs 23:7,  “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”   Negative self-talk was a fixed mindset, keeping me imprisoned in a false identity.

Remember, I had been a Christian for years at this point.  I knew that 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  But I was not walking in my identity in Christ.  I didn’t know who I really was, and my mind needed to be renewed.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  I underwent a spiritual transformation when I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and be my Savior.  But my mind was still conformed to my old way of thinking.  I needed to go through a mind renewal, a thought transformation.

I believe the reason so many Christians still struggle with major issues in their lives is that they haven’t yet discovered who they really are in Christ, and their minds have not yet been renewed.  This is the key to living the transformed life.

The good news is that change is possible!

The Transformation Process

Renewing the mind is a 3-step process:  IDENTIFY, CHALLENGE, REPLACE.

The first step to renewing your mind is IDENTIFY.  You need to be aware of what you’ve been thinking.  You need to see the patterns of your inner dialogue.  It’s been running in the background; now bring it forward and see exactly what messages you’ve been telling yourself.  It may help to do some journaling, or have some discussions with a trusted counselor.

It may also be helpful to identify what triggers the negative self-talk.  Are there occasional or everyday occurences  that instigate these thoughts?  Are there reminders of past events that were demeaning or traumatic?  For example, when my former pastor and employer verbally abused me, it triggered memories of similar incidents with my father.  Learning to recognize the red flags can help you to defuse the negative thoughts and take away their power over you.

The second step is CHALLENGE.  In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we are told, “Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  English grammar identifies this as an imperative sentence– in other words, a command.  Instead of letting these thoughts roam free whenever they enter your mind, you need to take them captive and challenge them.  Is there evidence to support these thoughts?  Are they based on facts, or are they distorted beliefs?  Ask yourself, “Is this true?  Is this what God says?”

Remember that negative self-talk is based on perception, not reality.  If the thought is not true, if the thought does not line up with biblical teaching, that thought is a lie and must be rejected.  Because the majority of our daily thoughts are repetitions, this step may take time.  Felicia Rundgren Landenberg says, “When you start challenging your negative thoughts, you may experience some resistance or discomfort.  It’s normal for your mind to cling to familiar patterns of thinking, even if they’re harmful.”

Christian blogger Laura Naiser advises, “Don’t judge yourself and beat yourself up when your brain continues to offer up the old “stinkin’ thinkin'” thoughts.  That’s just your brain doing what brains are supposed to do.  Have compassion for yourself and gently redirect your brain to the thoughts you want to be thinking instead.  This will help you act from the intentional thought instead of the old, automated one.”

This leads us to the third step in the process, REPLACE.  Once you’ve identified and challenged the negative misbeliefs, it’s time to replace them with other thoughts. 

This is where people in the self-help movement get it wrong.  The secular experts will tell you to use what they call “positive affirmations.”  You’re supposed to counteract the negative self-talk with statements such as “I am strong!” “I am competent!”  “I am fill-in-the-blank.”

The basic concept is correct, but what you use to replace the lies with must be truth.  As Caren Fehr puts it, “Where the positive self-talk movement misses the mark is in how it convinces us to focus on our ability to save ourselves…We must be on guard against any self-talk that tempts us to do anything apart from God, His way, His Word and His Truth.  If we talk to ourselves without His Word as the very foundation of our words, we could get sucked into preaching a false gospel to ourselves in an effort to create and build our best life.”

The fact is, replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations won’t work because it’s based on pride and self.  The thoughts we replace negative thinking with must be true, which means they must be founded on God’s Word.  We renew our mind with what the Bible says.  We replace the lies of negative self-talk with the truths of scripture.  Get into the Bible, find out what God says about you, discover the promises He has made to His children.  There is power in God’s Word, the power to transform!  Philippians 2:5 says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ.”  In the New International Version it says, “Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

This is what I did when I went through the process of reading Neil Anderson’s “Who I Am In Christ” list every day for several years.  I was replacing my negative thinking with the truths of God’s Word.  I met resistance at first, with Satan sending thoughts like “You don’t really believe that, do you?”  But as I kept with it, gradually I did come to believe it, and a shift in my mindset occurred.  The negative self-talk began to fade away, replaced with God’s positive affirmations!

Bible teacher Dennis Burke says, “Our inner dialogue can be a source of strength, or a stumbling block to our faith.  The continual commentary in our minds will either feed our faith or our fear.” As a child of God, you don’t have to put up with negative self-talk.  Your mind can be crystal clear on who you are and what God has for you. 

IDENTIFY, CHALLENGE, REPLACE — be transformed by the renewal of your mind, and kick negative self-talk to the curb!



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Related Posts:

“Looking In A Cracked Mirror”

“Are You Loving Yourself?”

“What You Need To Believe About God And You”


3 thoughts on “Negative Self-Talk, or How To Grow Weeds”

  1. This is an excellent article. Thank you for sharing this. I have recently started with Christian Brain Rewiring and much of what you shared is what we do. Blessings to you.

  2. Tim,
    This was so good and so true. Thank you for sharing. So many people experience this way of thinking including myself. I have been changing my way of thinking for a way now and it feels so good.


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