How Can You Help Rewrite Negative Inner Dialogue?

can we change inner dialogue We all have inner dialogue that plays on repeat and forms our core values about ourselves. What happens when that inner dialogue repeats negative messages hour after hour?

The Toll of Negative Inner Dialogue

I asked my students to spend ten minutes writing down their goals last week. Some of them came up with impressive lists of what they’d like to accomplish. A few just sat there. The next day, I asked them to list all the barriers they see to achieving their goals. Each of them had a decent list; many had long lists.

Yesterday, I asked them to write what they had going for them to help them achieve their goals and overcome their barriers. I tried explaining it several different ways, but they looked at me in confusion. So I finally I just shut up and let them write.

The minutes ticked by and students stared off into space. I heard a tentative scratch or two, but after ten minutes, the combined group had come up with a total of five things. Just five. I wanted to weep.

If I could just climb into their heads and rewrite their internal dialogue. I don’t know for sure what plays on repeat, but it can’t be good. Especially if they don’t see their potential the way I do.

In some ways, they are the easiest kids I’ve ever worked with. When there’s no food for supper, they don’t whine or complain. If the bus gets stuck, they get out and push. They still tease me good naturedly about my driving, but they also assure me that they like it when I drive.

A few opened up to the class when I asked them how it felt to be in high school, and know they’d been promoted year after even though they didn’t read at grade level, understand math, or ‘get’ school.

“We feel as if we’re not worth teaching.”

“It makes us feel like the school feels sorry for us.”

“I feel dumb.”

And I, their teacher, feel like I’ve failed them. I don’t repeat to them enough the words they need to hear: You are smart. I believe in you. You can do this, I know you can learn.

My World vs. Their World

self-worthI grew up in a lily-white world where that internal dialogue got programmed at birth by loving parents and Christian teachers. People who had experienced success and knew how to slather it on those around them. I never had to listen to negativity on repeat because I had the luxury of ignoring negative people. The people around me fed my positive inner dialogue

It’s time to quit living so much in my head and speaking life into those around me. Positive words and affirmations that can slowly erase and record over the negative inner dialogues that my kids have ingrained in their minds.

They matter. All lives matter. And if we don’t want to see people waste their lives, we have to help those who have negative inner dialogues playing on repeat inside their heads. I have no idea how long it took for my positive inner dialogue to dig its way into my core beliefs about myself, but I do know that my positive self-image has paved the way for me to achieve things, try things, and be comfortable in my own skin.

We need to find way to look people deep in their eyes and tell them, like Aibileen Clack does in the book The Help, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

What If?

If someone had told Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold those three things every day, would Columbine have happened? What if someone had told Robert Bowers every day that he is kind, he is smart, and he is important? Vilifying people who do heinous things does nothing to change things.

Instead, what if we used our time and emotional energy to help people rewrite their inner dialogues? Yes, we can grieve with families of the victims. We can hate that sin exists and that the devil wants us hopeless. But most important of all, we can ask God for the strength to love, to speak life.

Think of what a better world we would have if we told five people a day three positive things about themselves?

Who can you encourage today?

In the face of yet another tragedy, I can't help but wonder about the self-worth of the shooter. #innerdialogue #hatecrime #love Click To Tweet


  1. Profound and vital, Anita. Great job.

    I do think that Harris, Klebold, and Bowers would not have been turned by anything short of Divine intervention. I’ve worked with people like this, and there’s something missing. I’ve been called an unpleasantly hard man, and people like the aforementioned scare me.

    You’ll love meeting Susan tomorrow! 🙂

  2. Great post! Just a few encouraging words can be powerful. It may take a long to time to rewrite that negative inner dialogue but with repeated encouragement we can get there!

  3. great post anita…as always! i’m getting back in the FMF groove. the last 6 weeks have been a bit crazy. i have missed my people here but i needed to stretch where i was as well. i’m trying to develop some new things at my blog. not sure it shows yet.

    i totally agree that the inner dialogue of people needs to change. so thankful for the work you are doing in the lives of these kids. not sure it is possible to bring about that lasting change apart from Jesus. i know it can start, but sooner or later, people run out of energy if they have to do it all on their own and keep talking positive talk to themselves. much easier to do it with Jesus.

  4. I just love this and I know that you ARE the voice your students need! I tried to be for mine as well. I have made it my goal to encourage and uplift those I come in contact with and now I need to do that for myself. As you know, I struggle with finding confidence in my own worth. I appreciate your words last night and these you’ve written today! I’ll say it again, you amaze me! Cindy

  5. Fan-flipping-tastic, my friend.

    I just finished a 6-week study called “Redemptive Compassion” and it was eye-opening. You are so right. People NEED to hear the words. Heck, I need to hear positive words, and, like you, I’ve been very fortunate and privileged in my life compared to many. There are so many people out there who have no idea that they have potential, talents and a God who loves them so fiercely. Thank you so much for this call to open my mouth and speak life.
    Marie recently posted…Five Minute Friday: RepeatMy Profile

  6. I cant believe that anyone is beyond redemption, because to believe that would be saying that God’s love isn’t strong enough. I don’t think I want to live in that world. Yes, it is easier to sympathize with victims than look at the perpetrator in any crime.
    It’s so easy to have a negative dialogue. I find myself having to fight it with my children. I realize they have many advantages that other children lack and yet they realize that they are different, my daughter through her health and emotional issues and my son through his sensory and neurological struggles. I have to keep trying to replace their negative attitudes toward themselves with words of love and encouragement. I can’t imagine the struggle for children who don’t have loving parents, extended community and church family to remind them they are loved and that they matter.

  7. Love this Anita. My heart sank though as I read the comments from your students. People do not understand the impact trauma has on someone’s life. Research actually is showing the correlation between connectedness and the impact it can make on those affected by trauma. “Instead, what if we used our time and emotional energy to help people rewrite their inner dialogues?” Yes.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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