Negative Self-Talk Technique – Steve Andreas

Mar 11, 2015 by

Recently I sent out a blog post with a 2-1/2 minute video of changing a limiting belief that resulted in anxiety, using a method* developed by Mel Davis in the UK. The client was a participant in a 4-day PTSD training who had strong anxiety any time she was alone, and potentially helpless; she drove from Arizona to Boulder-some 800 miles-and had to stop every hour to pee.

It was probably the second day of training when I did Nick Kemp’s version of Bandle’s spinning feelings process** with her; in the process she mentioned her internal voice saying “I can’t do it,” but I didn’t work with this at the time. (Although I’m not completely sure, I think the internal voice triggers the spinning feeling, so you can intervene at either step to stop the anxiety-or intervene with both to be double sure.)

After participants had practiced the spinning method, I asked her to come up again and did the 2-1/2 minute clip above.

Immediate follow-up:
The next morning she reported that her car had failed to start, and she calmly went about calling for help, saying that previously she would have been panicked. After the training she drove home, feeling calm and centered the whole way, with no need to stop and pee every hour.

16-month follow-up:
“The blue spiral shows up when needed. An example is when my computer crashed recently. Instead of becoming very anxious and blocking other options, I saw the image and my mind immediately shifted to other strategies. In this case, it was learning a new iPad Mini and a Windows 7 laptop. I am sleeping much better, and am more relaxed overall.

“On a personal note, my mom is 91 and failing. Rather than becoming anxious, shifting into the “What can I do?” mode, I am able to listen to her well and be supportive. That alone brings great comfort to me, for I can help her generate new strategies. This process has also been very successful with my clients, and even over a table with friends. I can’t thank you enough for the changes that have evolved from this simple, yet elegant process.”

Notice that although she is very aware of her feeling shifts in the video clip, she had no conscious perception or understanding of how they were elicited.

Since most problems are caused by unconscious processing, effective change work must involve changes in the unconscious aspects of our experiencing. Despite this, a great deal of “talk therapy” is directed at developing “insight” or other conscious understandings.

In the video clip I first set the frame that all parts or aspects of ourselves have a positive intent, and then offer her a series of instructions-some verbal, and some nonverbal-all directed at altering
nonverbal aspects of her experience of the sentence.

Writing what she says to herself on the flip chart transforms the auditory dialogue into a visual experience of the words, which tends to remove the nonverbal tonality. Since words on a page have no tonality except what is provided by our reading voice (plus a very few clues provided by punctuation: ;!?,. etc.) the visual representation of inner dialogue strips out all the auditory tempo, tonality, accent, etc.

And since those tonal qualities are the major drivers of the emotional/feeling state, it creates a shift even before any other changes in punctuation, etc. That elicits a more neutral response that makes it easier to introduce a different tonal pattern or tempo, etc. when going from the visual back to an auditory representation.

Generalizing, this could be a very useful first step when working with any troublesome internal dialogue. Write it out on paper, or a flip chart, or in space, before intervening-to delete the existing nonverbals that are the principal drivers of the bad feeling in problem contexts.

Bruce Teall pointed out to me that this is likely an unrecognized factor in writing out a sentence on a card to read periodically, as is done in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and may be a factor in the usefulness of journaling, or any other process that involves writing out internal dialogue. This suggests that writing out internal dialogue in visual form may be a useful first intervention, regardless of what you decide to do next.

In the clip, changing “can’t” into “can not” changes a constricting modal operator of impossibility into one of possibility and choice-she can always choose to not do it.

I also write her sentence in a way that punctuates it differently, separating it into three pieces: “I can,” “not,” and “do it.”

Finally, I change the tonality of the first piece into a confident statement, the second piece into a rhetorical question, and the third into a command. All these interventions change nonverbal aspects of her sentence in order to elicit changes in her feeling response to it.

I welcome any comments, particularly if they offer an additional or different way of understanding the events in this short video clip-or in response to any of my other videos on YouTube.

* For a detailed description of this method, with many examples, see chapter 11 of my book, Transforming Negative Self-Talk.
** video demonstration of this method on YouTube at:

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