4 Types of Internal Dialogue You Should Avoid

· May 21, 2017

Everybody goes through painful moments and unexpected negative situations that they need to overcome. However, these experiences can lead some people to develop a negative internal dialogue. This isn’t ideal in any circumstance, but it’s even more dangerous when it threatens to become a permanent habit.

Nobody is exempt from facing problems that they can’t solve, whether it’s because they’re too complex, or because they don’t have the right tools to resolve them. Under these circumstances, if you evaluate the problem as important, it’s normal for anxiety to appear, as the challenge has transformed into a threat.

“History is nothing but a dramatic dialogue between man and the universe.”

-María Zambrano-

In disorders like these, it’s common to have internal dialogues that reinforce negative ideas and bring the person back to the painful experience that they still haven’t been able to overcome. The worst part is that when faced with each new experience that reminds them of what happened, they start to react negatively because they consider it to be potentially dangerous.

Anticipatory anxiety is the main component of this kind of thought pattern, once it’s been established. From that point on, the person repeats distorted thoughts which intensify the initial anxiety until it becomes intolerable.


man's face

A dialogue that escalates

When a person is in a state of anxiety, they tend to develop a catastrophic internal dialogue. This view of life is the product of an altered and therefore distorted emotional state. The danger is that if they don’t correct this dialogue quickly, it can become a vicious cycle that gets worse over time, and can even lead to a panic attack.

The symptoms of a panic attack include pressure on the chest, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, sweaty hands, and palpitations. In biological terms, this is a normal mammalian reaction to a threat. The person suffering perceives a situation that they can’t control, and without realizing, their internal dialogue reinforces these negative and catastrophic ideas. Thus, they lose control and enter into crisis mode.

papers flying through door

Panic attacks can escalate and become extremely severe. However, when effective measures are taken at the first sign of symptoms, the crisis can be stopped and the person can leave the cycle of negative thought. This is possible because these negative thought patterns are learned, and therefore, can be changed.

Classification of internal dialogues

Specialists in the field of psychology have classified 4 types of internal dialogues that can trigger anxiety: catastrophic, self-critical, victimizing, and self-demanding.

  • Catastrophic: Anxiety arises when the person imagines the worst possible scenario. They anticipate certain events (which wouldn’t actually happen) and magnify them. This leads to erroneous perception, which can trigger a panic attack. The essential phrase in this type of internal dialogue is, “anything can turn into a tragedy when you least expect it.”
  • Self-critical: The features that distinguish this type of dialogue involve a permanent state of judgment and negative evaluation of one’s own behavior. They emphasize their limitations and flaws, making their lives unmanageable. They tend to be dependent on others and compare themselves with others, which makes them feel at a disadvantage. They envy those who achieve their goals and become frustrated when they can’t achieve their own. The preferred phrases in this type of internal dialogue are, “I can’t,” “I’m incapable,” “I don’t deserve it.”
  • Victimizing: This type is characterized by feeling unprotected and hopeless, which causes them to believe that they have no cure, that they’re not making any advancement or progress. They think that everything will always be the same and that there will always be insurmountable obstacles between them and what they want. They don’t like the way things are, but they don’t try to change them. In the victimizing type of internal dialogue, people tend to say things like, “nobody understands me,” “nobody values me,” “I’m suffering and nobody cares.”
  • Self-demanding: People in this category develop exhaustion and chronic stress due to their perfectionism. They’re intolerant of mistakes and try to convince themselves that their faults are due to external causes and not them. They wear themselves down thinking about how they didn’t achieve their goals due to a lack of money or status despite being friendly to everyone. The self-demanding internal dialogue includes phrases like, “it’s not enough,” “it’s not perfect,” “it didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” etc.
woman hugging herself

Regaining control

Making ourselves aware of these types of internal dialogues is a great first step towards regaining control and preventing a negative perception of yourself or your environment, which would only trigger a state of anxiety.

However, real change involves detecting those negative thoughts and replacing them with positive affirmations. It’s important to control your breathing, relax, and face the situation calmly. Pessimistic and self-destructive attitudes are self-perpetuating.

It isn’t easy to change these reactions to things you consider threatening, but it’s the same as when you want to change a bad habit, like quitting smoking: it requires determination and effort, but in the end you can achieve it if you’re committed to it.

Thoughts Destroy, but They Also Heal