This module will help you to explore and develop an understanding of:

  • What self-talk is
  • The difference between negative and positive self-talk (negative and positive thinking)
  • How to change negative self-talk in to positive self-talk

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What is self-talk?

It is what you say to yourself in your mind. It can have a really strong impact on your self-esteem and confidence. How you talk to yourself in your mind affects your attitude, feelings, self-image, behaviour and view of the world. We can talk to ourselves in both negative and positive ways.

Negative self-talk

In order for people to allow themselves to abuse children they will generally be using a number of ‘self-justifications’ to persuade themselves that it is ok to do what they are doing. This process of persuading oneself that it is ok to abuse children or engage in appropriate sexual thoughts is called ‘self-talk’. Self-talk is the internal argument someone uses to give themselves permission to do something they know they shouldn’t be doing. There are two kinds of negative self-talk:

1) the kind that justifies inappropriate or unhealthy behaviour, e.g.

  • I am entitled to look at pornography
  • They are just images it’s not really hurting a child
  • I can walk through the park on my own, I am in control
  • One drink won’t do any harm

2) the kind that makes you feel useless or insignificant, e.g.

  • What’s the point? No one cares about me anyway
  • I fail at everything I do, so why bother?
  • All my relationships end badly
  • I am bound to get it wrong

Frequently engaging in negative self-talk will make you angry, resentful and make you believe that you deserve bad things to happen to you. It can breed a sense of grievance and injustice and lead to negative and false assumptions including those that give you permission to engage in abusive and/or inappropriate behaviour. Most negative self-talk is irrational and based on thinking errors.


Positive self-talk

Positive self-talk is based on rational thoughts and beliefs. It reinforces what you know is right and helps you to think clearly. This kind of self-talk encourages positive thinking and motivation – it can stop destructive behaviours and be the trigger for healthy ones. Positive self-talk can reinforce other intervention techniques. There are two kinds of positive self-talk:

1) the kind that enhances your self-esteem, e.g.

  • I am really pleased with how I worked today
  • I am glad I helped that person
  • I can do it!
  • I deserved the reward I got

2) the kind that encourages healthy behaviour, e.g.

  • I have a number of positive qualities that my family and friends like such as patience, generosity and a good sense of humour
  • It’s normal to make mistakes but I will learn from them
  • I can control my drinking
  • I won’t let them bring me down

Positive self-talk is also helpful when you are engaging in interventions, as it will help you to follow through with your plans.


You need to understand where your negative self-talk comes from and be determined to shift your negative thinking to positive. This is not always easy as, even though you will have a number of positive qualities, you may struggle to recognise them and find it hard to give yourself credit for them.


Here are some ways in which you can tackle your negative thinking:

Ask yourself

What is my current self-talk like? What do I say to myself about difficult situations, responsibilities, opportunities and my ability to manage these things? What do you say to yourself when you are experiencing negative feelings such as frustration, disappointment or something you don’t want to do?

Consider your plans

…for the next week and reflect on what you say to yourself about them. This should help you to identify whether you have a tendency to be a positive or negative thinker and the part that self-talk plays in reinforcing this.

Plan positive things to say

If you know you have to deal with a potentially difficult situation, identify and rehearse some positive self-talk statements that you can employ before, during and after the situation, e.g. ‘When I stop and think I stay calm and in control. Being calm helps me to think clearly and make better decisions.’

Keep a diary

…for a week detailing any negative things you say to yourself. After a week look back and see what sort of messages you give yourself. Ask yourself, would I say these things to a friend? We are often harder on ourselves that others.


…how your self-talk has allowed you to engage in problematic sexual behaviour. If you have not offended, this could include masturbating to sexual thoughts of children. Think about how you might have made it ‘okay’ or ‘not so bad’ by the things you said to yourself about your behaviour.

Challenge your thinking

For each negative statement ask yourself these questions:

  • What evidence do I have for this belief?
  • What other explanations are there?
  • How likely is this to be the case?
  • If it concerned someone else what would I think?


Do something that will distract you from negative thoughts and feelings. This might be an activity or contacting a friend.

Positive reframing

Try to find a positive aspect to the situation to focus on, rather than the negative. This is something we often do after a bereavement for example, remembering the positive life someone had rather than the loss.

Use positive language

If you constantly say “I can’t” you will convince yourself that it’s true. Replace negative words with positive ones.


…on what has contributed to the negative thoughts and feelings. Positive thinking is not about denying that anything is or can go wrong. If something goes wrong then take the time to consider what went wrong in order to avoid future mistakes and look forward more positively.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

It takes time, practice and determination to change negative thinking and adopt a more optimistic approach.

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