Practically everyone experiences negative self talk at least once in their life. It’s a very common experience to have, especially among those with a mental illness and/or addiction. Negative self talk is the experience most people have when the internal voice thinks about, interprets, and determines how to perceive certain life situations. This inner voice is what most experts call self-talk. It can include both a person’s conscious as well as unconscious assumptions.

Most people will experience negative self talk when they are facing an uncomfortable, stressful, or emotionally painful situation. For instance, a person might begin to talk negatively to themselves when they experience the following:

  • -negative emotional states such as anger, sadness, or stress
  • -physical discomfort such as withdrawal symptoms or pain in the body
  • -social pressures, such as being at an event where everyone else is drinking or using drugs
  • -unbeatable temptations or cravings
  • -conflicts with others, such as having an argument with your spouse


Self talk, in these situations and others, tends to be skewed toward the negative. In some cases, self talk is simply not accurate. For instance, a person who is incredibly talented in playing an instrument might say this to themselves before getting on stage: “I’m going to fail and make a fool of myself.”

For someone who is in recovery, negative self talk might become more pronounced. In the past, drug use and/or drinking might have masked the negative thoughts one has. However, with the absence of substances, the inner experiences might become more accessible. A person is more likely to experience any anxiety, depression, and negatively that might have existed prior to regular substance use.

When a person is sober, it’s important that he or she learn how to manage their negative self talk, particularly because it can contribute to relapse if one is not careful. The best way to manage negative self talk is to simply challenge it. Question whether a thought is true. For instance, someone who continues to have thoughts about being a failure might do the following:

  1. Test reality – A person who believes that he or she is a failure might look for evidence in life that reveals a person has actually been a success.
  2. Look for another explanation – If a person continues to have a particular thought, look for a reason why that thought continues to appear. If a thought arises right before stepping on stage, it might be one’s anxiety or nervousness about performing in front of a crowd that is stimulating the thought.
  3. Put it into perspective – Negative self talk tends to exaggerate. If negative thoughts continue to point to failure, for example, a person might ask whether the situation is really as bad as it seems. It’s very common for negative self talk to blow current situations out of proportion based upon one challenging event in the past.

These are some easy ways to manage negative self talk, especially when it begins to interfere with the ability to stay sober.

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