We all have an internal voice that we engage with on a daily basis. In the counseling world we like to call it “Negative Self Talk.” This voice narrates your day from sunrise to sunset (and maybe even while you sleep). At times this voice can highlight your successes and bring encouragement to you when you need it most. Yet, many of us experience this narrator as an opponent, a critical parental figure, a hovering manager, or a schoolyard bully. It picks at your words and actions meticulously. Frankly, this narrator can make you miserable! It’s that voice in your head saying that you are not enough: you are not deserving; you are not desired; you do not belong; you are not lovable. This voice can warp a single experience or interaction into a generalization about you that is hurtful and self-limiting.
And yet we rarely think about how true these statements really are. Even when the inner voice criticises and puts you down, you believe it! This narrative seems so credible that you see it as a fact. The voice can be particularly convincing in making you replay the past or obsess over the future.
The truth is, we ALL have a unique “inner voice” that is colored by our past experiences. And, oftentimes, it has grown over the years to help us adapt to distressing circumstances. For example, if you you come to believe that you are not deserving of something, say a healthy relationship, then it will not hurt as much when you find yourself in a disappointing or dysfunctional relationship again. This voice may be trying to protect you from re-experiencing pain from your past. It may be creating a shield to keep others from seeing the REAL YOU. And yet, this voice also limits you by wielding feelings of self-deprecation, doubt, shame, and fear. It limits you from seeing and believing other possibilities.
I think I have established well enough at this point that this inner critic can be a real drag! So how can you get it to leave you alone?! The idea here is to become more mindful of the voice. This is where some techniques can be a great help:
NOTICE IT. Without attacking the critic, simply notice it. Learn what it says, what it’s pattern is, when it shows up, etc. When we finally realize that the critic gets louder when we fight back, it makes sense to start simply noticing it and not fighting it. When it shows up, treat it with curiosity, like a biologist studying an animal in the wild.
LABEL IT. Ignoring the voice will not make it go away. Acting like it does not exist will simply allow it to grow more fierce. The first step involves acknowledging that the voice exists. It is a REAL aspect of your internal thought processes and it ABSOLUTELY affects you. It affects how you feel about yourself, how you feel about others, and how you act. By labeling the voice it begins the process of SEPARATING it from YOU. You could even give your critical voice a name (Get creative here 🙂 ). This separation is so important because it is the start of teaching ourselves that these statements are not true about who we are. We are not our thoughts.
HAVE A CHOICE. Now you have taken a step back. You’re noticing and labeling. It’s almost as if you have detached from the voice and can now see a few things clearly:
These statements that I have believed for so long are not facts!
I wonder about where this voice came from?
I have various choices for how to respond.
Consider your options to engage with the critic or not. It is a matter of feeling the control to RESPOND vs REACT.
So the next time your critical, negative self-talk shows its ugly face DON’T PANIC. Notice it, label it, and know your personal power to make a healthy choice.
Lisa Wilmore, LPC