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Stop hurting your own feelings: Tips on quashing negative self-talk

Art creative installation single Black woman sitting in studio in blue suit on yellow background. The image illustrates the idea of hurting your own feelings by taking everything personally.
Alexandr Dubynin
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This story is adapted from Life Kit's weekly newsletter, which is sent out to your email inbox every Friday. Subscribe here.

Do you ever hurt your own feelings?

For me, it's a common occurrence. A curt reply to that thoughtful work email, zero responses to that happy hour invitation – little slights like these get my inner critic going. What a dumb thing to say! Of course they don't like you. Who do you think you are?

This kind of negative self-talk can get in the way of creating strong relationships with ourselves and others. But there are ways to stop this spiral of thinking, says psychologist Ethan Kross. In moments of hurt or confusion, pause to consider other possibilities.

In our episode on how to take things less personally, Kross, author of Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It, says assessing the situation from different angles can help you avoid the unproductive thought loop that can prevent our ability to move on.

Maybe that coworker gave a short response to your email because they were on deadline. Maybe your friend simply forgot to push "send" on her response.

Maybe, just maybe, it's not all about you – and that's a freeing and wonderful thing, says Kross. Zooming out and changing your viewpoint is a great way to change that destructive internal narrative, he says.

Here are five more tips on how to crush self-doubt and make nice with the voice in your head.

Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend

In our episode on how to curb negative self-talk, psychologist Joy Harden Bradford says to be aware of the harmful things we might say to ourselves.

So the next time you're tempted to disparage your looks or criticize your decision-making, ask yourself: would I talk this way to my best friend? If not, practice "using the same kind and gentle language that we use with the people we love" on yourself, says Bradford. "Because we're also people who we hopefully love, right?" Listen to the episode here.

'SIFT' through what people say about you

The acronym SIFT (source, impact, frequency and trends), developed by research scientist Mike Caulfield, can help you figure out whether you should listen to feedback from others or just ignore it.

Say someone calls you out for poor email communication. Did that criticism come from someone you trust and value? Is it demanding a big change or a minor tweak to your behavior? Is this something you've heard from other people? And have you heard this from different communities in your life, or just at work? Consider these points before deciding to act. Listen to the episode here.

Don't forget that our brains have a tendency to focus on the negative

The mind is a tricky thing. It can lead us to fixate, for example, on one bad aspect of a year-end review from a manager instead of their positive feedback. This is called "negativity bias," says Yale psychology professor Woo-kyoung Ahn, and it illustrates our propensity to weigh negative events a lot more heavily than an equal amount of positive events. This "thinking error," she says, is dangerous because it can lead us to make the wrong choices. Find out how to counteract this bias here.

Don't dwell on something that bothers you — talk about it

If someone you love is causing you distress, don't be afraid to communicate with them about it, says psychologist Adia Gooden. It may help clear up any assumptions you may have and offer new perspectives about the incident.

For example, instead of jumping to conclusions if your partner is always on their phone at dinnertime, you might say to them: "Because you're always on your phone, I feel like you don't think I'm worthy of your attention," says Gooden. "And they might say, 'Oh, shoot, I didn't mean to be on my phone. Or, you know, I've been kind of frustrated with you and I didn't know how to bring it up. So I've been looking at my phone instead of making eye contact. Let's talk." Listen to the episode here.

Adapt a 'growth mindset'

Instead of defining yourself by your failures or limitations, consider every loss as part of your learning process. This idea, developed by psychologist Carol Dweck, is called a "growth mindset," and it can help bolster that internal dialogue when you've taken an L and can't stop kicking yourself about it.

Let's say you lose a round of pool. Those with a fixed mindset, she says, think that talent and intelligence are static: I give up, I'll never get good at this! Growth-minded people believe that effort can lead to mastery: Hey! I'm getting a lot better at putting some power behind the ball! It's all about finding the right perspective. Listen to the episode here.

The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.