What is self-talk? Everybody does it, consciously or unconsciously. Unconscious self-talk is often destructive; but conscious self-talk can lift your faith, keep you on an exercise program, and help you overcome bad habits and even lighten depression.
Positive or negative?
I was a first-grader. It was the Big Day, Field Day: Races, pennants outlining the race venues, prizes, and, of course, parents. Two images stand out in my mind about my race:
Image #1: my Dad on the sidelines, yelling “Come on! Come on!”
Image #2: myself as I ran, hearing an inner voice urging caution, telling me to be careful not to fall, and that I couldn’t win anyway. That inner voice was self-talk. Unfortunately, it easily beat out my Dad’s encouragement.
He and I were both disappointed in me that day. Maybe that was the beginning of my lifelong dread of sports and competition. Did someone threaten me? Had I fallen or failed at previous races? I don’t know where that voice came from, but that same self-talk dragged me down for years.
Positive self-talk, however, can win the day. Remember the Little Engine that Could? As he faced a huge hill, he kept telling himself “I think I can, I think I can.” Then, when he succeeded and he was racing down the other side, he said, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”
I told myself I couldn’t, and I didn’t. The Little Engine told himself he could, and he did. Yes, it’s just a kid’s story, but time after time real life people have told themselves they were winners in spite of others telling them they couldn’t. But they did! Wilma Rudolph had little hope of becoming a runner after developing polio, among other things. But she went on to break Olympic records. 
Self-talk in the Bible
From the very beginning people have engaged in self-talk. Satan influenced Eve to sin by telling her that she would become as wise as God. That temptation became her self-talk. “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6, italics mine).
The words “self-talk” do not appear in Scripture, but the phrase “say in his heart” does. Observe Abraham’s self-talk surfacing after God promises him and Sarah a child in their old age. “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” (Genesis 17:17, kjv, italics mine). Abraham’s past experience almost overrode his faith in what God could do. A common problem for all of us!
And the psalmist wrote, “Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil” (Psalm 14:1, nlt, italics mine).
We don’t know what in these fools’ experience prompted this self-talk, but it does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
These examples describe people who are unconsciously “counseling themselves.” Likely they were unaware of how self-talk was controlling them, but the biblical writer interpreted it as the motive for sin and the reason behind difficulty in maintaining faith. The Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets, did their utmost to motivate their people to consciously change their self-talk, advising God’s people to consider their motives and actions and live their lives according to faith in God. The New Testament writers clearly understood this issue—that self-talk must become conscious and positive–and we, in our mind’s eye, can see them grabbing the lapels of new Christians and practically shouting in their faces, Wake up! What are you doing? Listen to what you’re saying! Remember what God is saying!
Your self-talk: its origin
Your self-talk probably originates from your past life experience. Key creators of self-talk ./are our parents and other influential people, including teachers, peers, and those you want to be like. Positive, uplifting parent figures repeat their words unconsciously in our minds the rest of our lives: “You’re a winner!” “You’re a good girl!” “I love you!” “You can do it.” Negative, bullying, and abusive parent figures also repeat their putdowns over and over again: “Loser!” “Crybaby!” and “You’ll never amount to anything!”
Few of us will be victims of the heartless abuse of bullies, but don’t we unconsciously play the insults and slights of others over and over again in our minds, amplifying the damage until it’s all we hear? I’m convinced that negative and destructive self-talk fuels much of the depression we experience; perhaps even leading to suicide. Suicide has many and complex causes, but rates among all age groups continue to rise. Surely negative self-talk gets some of the blame.
Our perception of what others think can be just as destructive as actual words—even if we’re wrong. The world has for years idolized slender women with Barbie doll proportions. As a result, the self-talk of countless females undermines their self-image and makes them feel ugly and worthless because they don’t measure up.
Satan plants negative and defeating self-talk in your minds constantly. Satan’s constant goal is to destroy you. He diverts your attention away from Bible study and tells you the Bible is full of contradictions. He reminds you of your weaknesses over and over again, tempting you to sin and then hammering you with guilt when you give in. Nighttime is his playground when you are drifting to sleep or sitting at the computer ready to shut it off. His temptations seem overwhelming. He resurrects the past and dangles before you all of your failures and mistakes. He megaphones the insults and putdowns of others into your soul and tells you that you’ll never be better, only worse. If you only sit or lie there and let the waves of damaging disapproval wash over you, you are a sitting duck.
What are you telling yourself about yourself each day? What are its sources?
Managing your self-talk
You turn a major corner when you take the reins of self talk and consciously counter the negative memories and pessimism. It isn’t enough to enjoy a sunny day now and then. You must deliberately program yourself to turn off the old tapes and create new ones, instead. Jesus was a master at this (of course).
Try these things:
- Ask God to help you. Only God, our Creator, understands us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He wants to help you. He is willing to help you. He is waiting to help you! What’s more, He promises to help you.
- Figure out what your self-talk is. What is its source? Whose voices are you listening to? Your peers? Your parents? The Holy Spirit’s? Satan’s? Ask someone close to you who you trust to help you if you’re not getting anywhere. I have benefited greatly from the insight of a couple of professional counselors who helped me unravel my guilt, fear, and anger. It’s important to have a Christian counselor.
- Ask yourself if the discouraging things you are telling yourself about yourself agree with what Scripture says about you. Many Christians live defeated lives because they totally overlook what God says about us. (1) God loves the world. He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:16-17). (2) God forgives you no matter what. Stop dredging up the past that God has already forgiven. (3) God will never leave you because you are valuable to him (John 14:16). (4) God is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Perhaps it will help if you rephrase these and place them where you will see them every day. For example, “God loves me as I am.” “God forgives everything I have done and will forgive more if necessary.”
- Substitute negative self-talk with positive. Paul outlines this strategy: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
One last thing
Try not to criticize others. Everyone is fighting a battle. Instead, make it a point to constantly encourage others. Help them believe in themselves. And start with that person in the mirror.
 When the Pharisees belittled Jesus’ work and accused him of working miracles by Satan’s power, he immediately countered with the truth. “If I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Luke 11:19-21 NLT). Remember, also, Jesus’ use of scripture in countering Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). Note that Satan was also using scripture, but twisting it. This is why we must know scripture.
David Shultz enjoys mountain views in Arizona where he lives with his wife and two dogs, Molly and Maggie.