The Difference Between Positive Self-Talk and Negative Self-Punishment

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Meenakshi Thakur
Meenakshi Thakur
The most creative person on the team, Meenakshi, adds colors to her content with new vision and ideas. She brings unseen insights to the content team with her 3+ years of experience in Digital Marketing. Apart from being cheerful and chirpy all day, she loves to explore the beauty of nature in her Biology laboratory.

The difference in the effects of positive self-talk and negative self-punishment on our mental health is far from minor. We are often told to practice positive self-talk to encourage ourselves and approach things in our life with a positive perspective. 

Unfortunately, our current lifestyles, which tend to heavily involve social media, can make it more and more difficult to practice self-care and self-love. It can be too easy to be overly critical of how we look and act. That makes positive self-talk that much more important, as it recognizes personal strengths and gives us room to pick ourselves back up after a fall.  

However, sometimes people turn to negative self-punishment as a coping mechanism, through which any mistake in their work or engagement in a bad habit can spiral. This can cause people to look for some kind of negative reinforcement to keep themselves ‘in check,’ like not eating their favorite food for a week after enjoying what they perceive as too much dessert. 

This is starkly different from positive self-talk, which celebrates wins and is considerate to mistakes. 

The Key Difference

The Difference Between Positive Self-Talk and Negative Self-Punishment
Source: BetterHelp

The key difference between positive self-talk and negative self-punishment lies primarily, of course, in their literal self-explanatory definitions. 

Self-talk is essentially one’s inner dialogue; what you say to yourself. Positive self-talk is understanding of the fact that you are only human, you make mistakes, and that it is okay to make them and learn from them. 

If you engage in positive self-talk, you are not glossing over any setbacks or problems, but rather being kind to yourself about them. You pull yourself up and believe in your strength. 

Negative self-punishment is taking away something good or desirable to lessen the occurrence of an unwanted action. 

In psychology, negative is often used in the sense of ‘taking something away’ like subtraction, instead of denoting something bad. 

Sometimes the nature of self-punishment can be something that might benefit you, like reducing screen time for a couple of days. But even such punishments can be detrimental, as they can negatively affect your mood, make you agitated, or cause a boomerang effect of backsliding. They also tend to promote a more negative inner voice. 

Self-punishment can be harmful to one’s health, especially if it is physical, like not getting enough sleep. It is important to understand that self-punishment is not necessary. It can lead to feelings of sadness and dejection, and typically does not result in healthy outcomes. 

5 Ways Positive Self-Talk and Negative Self-Punishment are Different

The Difference Between Discipline and Punishment
Source: Parenting for brain

Negative self-punishment can take a toll on mental health

Some people turn to self-punishment because they think they deserve it or they must be a better person. 

However, in reality, self-punishment inhibits us from doing what is best for ourselves and others. It can make us miserable and force us to brood over every mistake we make during the day, affecting our attitude toward any task at hand. We do not deserve mistreatment. Positive self-talk can slowly help you believe that you are worthy of love and care.

If you feel the need to engage in self-punishment, or you are currently doing so, it may be advisable to speak to a mental health professional. 

Positive self-talk celebrates our wins and our losses 

If you engage in positive self-talk, you are not only picking yourself up after a loss in a healthy way, but you are also patting yourself on the back whenever something good occurs. 

You tell yourself you are stronger than you think in tough situations and allow yourself to recognize the same strength in your victories. 

Negative self-punishment by definition is only focused on mistakes and shortcomings while having almost no relation to any good things in your life. It is a mechanism that is fully dependent on negative experiences, which makes it a harmful way to improve yourself. 

Positive self-talk helps us stay in touch with feelings 

The Difference Between Positive Self-Talk and Negative Self-Punishment

Positive self-talk is very centered around your deepest feelings. It helps you recognize what you are feeling, why you are feeling it, and how to work your way through it. In this way, it is helping you be self-reflective and find long-term, healthy solutions to any issues you may be facing. 

Negative self-punishment does not allow you to think of long-term, healthy ways to deal with something, and inhibits you from learning to understand yourself. It does not encourage you to look inward and think about the root of the issue. You may find yourself spending a lot of energy focusing on the punishment itself. It can make you become overly critical toward yourself and cultivate negative self-perceptions and poor self-esteem. 

Positive self-talk can make it easier to affect others positively 

It is a common saying that people attract the same kind of energy that they put out into the world. If we use positive self-talk for ourselves, chances are, we will find it easier to use kind words for other people who need our help too. 

If you can forgive yourself and be kind in the way you think about yourself, it will be easier to turn the same energy outward to someone who may need it. 

If we use negative self-punishment, we can start to think very negatively about ourselves which can make it harder to reach out to people and empathize with them. 

Negative self-punishment can mentally and physically hurt you 

The Difference Between Positive Self-Talk and Negative Self-Punishment
Source: World Bank Blogs – World Bank Group

Self-punishment of any form, negative or positive, is not conducive to a healthy relationship with yourself. 

For instance, if you refrain from eating or eating well as a form of self-punishment, it can be seriously detrimental to your health. If you find yourself turning to forms of self-punishment in your daily life, it may be important to reach out to someone you trust or find professional help. 

Once you work through the issues you are facing that are leading you to self-punish, it can become easier to work toward positive self-talk and incorporating it into your daily life. 

Our relationship with ourselves can be one of the most challenging ones to understand. Negative self-perceptions and low self-esteem can lead to behaviors that are more harmful than helpful. 

Instead of trying to use punishment as a way to improve yourself or overcome a hurdle or mistake, positive self-talk can be a much healthier and efficient option. It helps you make your inner voice kinder, which can make a huge difference in how happy you feel in your skin. 

About the author:

The Difference Between Positive Self-Talk and Negative Self-Punishment

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.


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