For a long time, I’ve wanted to talk about a free stress management course my gym offered. Unfortunately, ever time I started, a voice in the back of my head piped up: “Stop, you idiot! No one cares what you have to say. No one will read your posts. A 5th-grader could write better than you.”
I like to think humans developed this inner critical voice for society’s benefit – to keep us safe or make us nicer people. But, clearly, our inner self-critics sometimes go far beyond whatever original purpose they served.
Sometimes, like my inner nay-sayer, they get overwhelming. We don’t always notice how often or how aggressive our critics get, giving them control.
They can curb our potential with their insidious whispers –
“Don’t try that new activity. You’ll just embarrass herself.”
“Don’t ask that person out for coffee. You’re not good enough to date him/her.”
“Don’t do it that way. You have no idea what you’re doing & you’ll mess it up.”
“Don’t eat that food. You’re fat, unattractive, & no one will ever love you.”
Thankfully, the stress management group had some tips to combat the human brain’s negative bias! As I struggle with my own inner critic, it seems like a great place to start.
I see how my negative self-talk holds me back more & more. Hopefully, sharing these ideas will keep me on track & maybe help you out in the process.
No time like the present, right?
WARNING: There’s no quick fix to this issue. It’s important to remind ourselves that retraining our brains is a learning process.
Calling Out the Critic
If you’re like me, your inner critic is always in your ear. It’s like the devil on your shoulder has a bullhorn. It constantly puts you down at full volume. The angel opposing it, by comparison, seems like its been gagged. Probably by that pesky devil!
So, sometimes I don’t notice when the critic’s talking, nor what she’s saying. What I’ve been doing lately, especially since I started writing this blog post (which reminded me to get back to work retraining my brain), is noticing when it happens.
I try to write down what negative thoughts I have, when I have them, so that I can question what my inner critical voice tells me. I usually wait until bedtime, then unpack them in my journal.
My stress management group recommended focusing on a number of areas, which I’ve found helpful:
- Is there a common theme? A lot of my negative thoughts deal with my weight, diet, how my pain affects my ability to enjoy activities, how I’m financially dependent on my Dad, what will happen when my Dad passes, my lack of artistic & creative abilities, etc.
- What’s the feeling behind the thought? Is the voice angry/fearful/apathetic? How does it make you feel? You could separate this into different questions if you like, but my brain flows through them all at once when I’m journaling. My inner voice sometimes sounds apathetic. It comes across like I’ve failed already. Other times, it seems depressed or has a condescending tone. It has that, “I know better than you” sound to it, with a ring of confidence that strengthens my belief that it’s right.
- Does this voice remind you of anyone from your life? I only had to ask this question of myself once – the voice in my head is always my Dad’s. It leaves me feeling conflicted; I love my Dad & I know he loves me too. Unfortunately, he also believes there’s a “wrong way” to do things & then there’s “his way.” Any deviation from “his way” is wrong, & it sometimes changes without notice. He questions why I do things my own way, gets mad when that way isn’t “right” (or, if you’ve been reading carefully, “his way,”), & it leaves me questioning myself constantly. What’s worse is, I hear his voice coming out of my mouth way more than I care to admit.
- Is it REALLY true? The reflex reaction to this question is, “of course!” But, if I take a breath & think about it with a gentler “tone of voice” in my head, I start to question my immediate confirmation.
When I’m not sure if a thought belongs on my little list, I remember something my former therapist said to me:
“Would you say this to your best friend? If not, what makes you think you deserve any less?”
Those questions have stuck with me the many years since she said them. Hopefully, they’ll stick with you too!
You don’t deserve any less tact, respect, & compassion than you’d give to someone you love. Neither do I.
Phew! That’s a lot of stuff to deal with. This seems like a good, positive note to leave off on for the moment. I’ll share Everyone’s A Critic – How To Turn Off Negative Thoughts, Part 2 within the next week or so.
In it, I’ll share the tips that I learned to counter-act the critical voice & how improving our self-talk can lead to bigger & better things (well, hopefully, at least; I might have to do another follow up post when I’m further into my brain re-training).