“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare
We all have private conversations with ourselves. These conversations can be extremely powerful, both as a motivator and as an obstacle to achieving our goals. If your inner monologue tends to be quite critical and judgemental, perhaps commenting “you’ll never cope with this” or “you’re not as good as others”, “You don’t belong here” and so on, over the course of a lifetime these thoughts can become things that we strongly believe about ourselves, other people and the world that we live in. Negative self-talk relies on you buying into it. It’s not just saying the words silently to yourself, it is truely believing you are flawed and unworthy of love and belonging.
The inner critic can spend years cataloguing our every mistake, failure and negative quality. Reminding us that we are not good enough, not capable enough or not worthy enough. This kind of criticism can be seriously damaging to our sense of self. Our thoughts influence how we feel and how we behave, which means that negative self talk can be incredibly destructive. Telling yourself that you’ll never be successful or that you aren’t as good as other people, will reduce your feelings of self-worth and has implications on our motivations and potential accomplishments.
As you read these words if you find yourself nodding along, you’re in the majority. Most of us in fact have a tendency to be overly critical of ourselves. Most people experience self-doubt and self-reflections at some point. For some the inner critic shows up when we are at our most vulnerable, fearful, or sad. For others it happens so habitually that the critic simply becomes background noise and they are completely unaware of this inner monologue. Fortunately, however, you don’t have to be a victim of your own verbal abuse. Instead you can take the following steps to proactively address this negative self talk and develop a more productive dialog with yourself.
1. Start to develop an awareness of your thoughts. We get so used to hearing our own narrations that it’s easy to become oblivious to the messages that we’re sending ourselves. We are rarely aware of what we are thinking whilst we are thinking it. We have a tendency to simply believe our thoughts as being a true reflection of our experience. Try to bring more awareness to your own thoughts and remember that simply because you think something, does not mean that it is true. Our thoughts are often exaggerated, biased, and disproportionate.
2. Take time to examine the evidence. Learn the skill of recognizing when to recognize when your inner critic is negatively exaggerating reality. If you have the thought “That was a total disaster” examine the evidence that supports this thought, as well as the evidence that does not. When you make a mistake or you’ve had a bad day, you may be tempted to re-play the events over and over in your head. Thus increasing the likelihood that you will view the event negatively. But these thoughts are not necessarily reflective of reality. Sometimes it can be helpful to write things down on paper. Looking at evidence on both sides of the argument can help you look at the situation more rationally and less emotionally. Be honest with yourself, hasn’t the voice steered you in the wrong direction occasionally? The voice, as it turns out, it not always correct.
3. Replace overly critical thoughts with more accurate and balanced statements. Reframe an overly negative thought to a more rational and realistic statement. When you find yourself thinking, ““That was a total disaster” replace it with a balanced statement like, “There were several things that did not go well with that presentation, but there were also things that went well. When I looked up I noticed many of my audience were engaged and smiling.” Each time you find yourself thinking an exaggeratedly negative thought, respond with the more accurate statement.
4. Make a list your good qualities. No one is only one thing. Whatever your weaknesses, they are likely to be balanced by your strengths. Make a list of these and have it to hand. If your inner critic is so strong that you find it difficult to recognise any positive qualities enlist a friend to help you see yourself differently. Remember these when you notice your inner critic being particularly strong and use them to help you balance your thoughts more accurately.
5. Practice self compassion. Self compassion is the practice of understanding and calming our inner critic and replacing it with a voice of support, understanding, and care for one’s self. When we feel compassion for others, we feel kindness toward them, empathy, and a desire to help reduce their suffering. The process is similar when learning to develop some compassion for ourselves. Self-compassion creates a caring space within you that is free of judgment—a place that sees your hurt and your failures and softens to allow those experiences with kindness and caring. This can be challenging, and for some seemingly impossible. Self compassion is not about bragging or trying to inflate your ego, it’s about being honest with yourself about what you do well. There is a huge difference between self indulgence and self compassion. Treat yourself equally as kind as you’d treat a friend and apply those words of encouragement to your life.
If we can at the very least dampen the voice of our inner critic, our whole self- image improves. We can cut down on anxiety, stress, fear and improve our mood greatly. All of which leads to a better quality of life. Don’t you deserve that?