In Everyone’s A Critic – How To Turn Off Negative Thoughts, Part 1, I shared some of the negative thoughts that plague me & tips from my stress management course on “unpacking” them.
TANGENT: If anyone knows the origin of the phrase “unpacking” to mean digging deeper into understanding a subject, please tell me all about it in the comments! Or, if I’m using the phrase wrong, tell me about that too!
BACK ON-TOPIC: This post has the good stuff! I get to talk about some tips I received on how to improve my self-talk & spread positivity.
Changing the Conversation
OK, I’ll be honest – I tend to snap back at someone who’s talking down to me. Even if that “someone” is me. Because, ultimately, that harsh inner voice is my own. Calling it a “b—-” would be me doing exactly what’s upsetting me – talking harshly & calling myself names.
Fighting fire with fire in this situation only hurts you. It burns your emotional support down.
Advice from my stress management handouts specifically warned against my typical reaction. It suggested, instead, responding to my inner critic with empathy & remember to whom I’m speaking.
I take a breath, & a moment to approach my hypercritical inner voice as if I’m a compassionate 3rd party. I mean, technically it’s a 2nd party, as my inner conversation is always a monologue, but it does help to think of it as a conversation. Asking yourself questions & finding what drives your consciousness to criticism helps uncover what’s motivating the commentary.
I like to use some of the questions I shared in the first part of this series. Specifically, what emotions seem to drive the remarks? Is the inner voice trying to keep me from getting hurt, either physically or emotionally?
I find, in my case, anger & apathy come from a place of fear. It’s like a popular “reality” TV court show judge likes to say, “Anger is fear’s b—-y little sister.”
Anger, & the dagger-like words it wields, makes us feel powerful & in control. The truth is often a mask we hope will protect us from the terrifying truth – the outcome is unknown. That’s some scary stuff!
Keeping this in mind, I look at the recent self-talk I’ve written down in my journal & ask some more questions:
- Is there a way to rephrase the critical thought, addressing the emotions underlying it? The worksheets I received said something like, “you could try saying to your inner critical voice, ‘I understand that you’re worried about [x], but your anger is upsetting me. Could I talk to my inner empathetic voice?’” Another way is to identify the emotion, take a breath, & rephrase the critical thought (for example, “you’re fat & no one will ever love you,” becomes “I’m feeling badly because I’m trying to lose weight & I overate. Instead of wallowing in this feeling, I think I’ll do some stretches & go to the gym tomorrow.”).
- How would I say this to my best friend? I would never speak to my friends the way I speak to myself. Words like “fat,” “stupid,” “idiot,” “lazy,” & “worthless” never pass my lips, unless I’m feeling particularly catty or self-deprecating. Whatever words I’d use towards them, I know the disgust & apathy aimed at my heart would be replaced with warmth & love. So, I try to find that same tone & vocabulary when I direct the comments inward.
- Am I reacting emotionally? Am I taking words or actions personally that weren’t intended as such? Is it possible I’m “catastrophizing” or making a problem bigger than it really is? At times, I can be a little paranoid. I think people are thinking or talking about me, when, in reality, most people don’t care to focus on others. They have their own problems they’re worried about. It can be hard to identify when I’m reacting emotionally, sometimes. When I’m “in my feelings,” I may need some time before I can answer this – & other questions like it – without an emotional reaction.
- Do you notice words like “never” or “always” in your critical comments? These words are a telltale sign that the comment is false. Hearing “absolutes” like these should send up a red flag that you’re reacting emotionally & it requires closer inspection. I could write a whole post on why “always,” “never,” & “should” are words that give me a burning in my belly that indicates a rant is bubbling up. When my brain says, “you never go to the gym,” I know that’s not true – I’ve been there, so this is my brain exaggerating.
Again, there’s no magic pill here. I’ve spent the past few weeks “correcting” my tone, even seeing the same cynical slips several times in a short period. I know it may take months – or even years – to get into the habit of talking to myself gently & with compassion.
I’ve had to remind myself that the “kill ‘em with kindness” technique I use in my every day interactions with people also applies to that pesky devil whispering in my ear. It feels forced at times, which brings up another applicable adage – “fake it ‘til you make it.”
Why? Because –
- It feels silly, but no sillier than calling yourself names for eating too much
- It’s awkward, but no more awkward than berating yourself for tripping over the cat
- It might seem more “sunshine & rainbows” than you’re used to, but, really, is the alternative such a hot prospect?
Spread the Power of Love
Just writing that heading got Huey Lewis’s song, “The Power of Love,” stuck in my head. On repeat.
It’s fitting (although annoying) that writing these words had such an immediate & lasting effect. Words, set to music or contained in their own melodiousness, can knock you down or lift you up in a wide range of emotions. That’s because words have power.
We can use that power to affect change in many ways. I think the best way to use this power is to improve minds – both our own, & the minds of those around us.
Science even backs me up on this super-secret word-based power! Studies have shown using positive words & phrases can strengthen areas of the human brain. Specifically, results showed improvement in cognitive function.
Making my brain work better, probably with better stress management, just by using some words more often? Sign me up!!
Adding positive & empathetic phrasing internally is a great start. Sharing the “turn that frown upside-down” attitude with those around us is the next logical – & brain-bettering – step.
WARNING: I don’t recommend sharing your new positive mindset lifestyle in the same way some over-zealous practitioners share their fad diet of the week.
I also don’t recommend out-&-out telling people to turn their frowns upside-down (or “smile”) – you don’t know their lives & may end up getting slapped.
By subtly turning to positive phrases & the avoiding negative words our brains automatically hone in on, we strengthen the meek mute facing off against our inner devil.
It’s imperative to extend our positive talk to those around us. It can help others, & research shows it takes a lot more positivity to even reach neutrality – let alone give our relationships a positive slant.
Our brains latch onto negativity. Recognizing words with a negative perception & sharing those with a positive perception can counter our brain’s obsessive need for being a buzzkill.
It just requires five times as many positives to counter a single negative.
If you made it this far, THANK YOU! I tried to make these posts shorter by breaking them up. There’s so very much to tell about this journey & I wanted you all to come along with me!
As I bring this to a close, I want to let you in on a little tip that I think about when I struggle with my inner critic:
Thoughts are not facts!
In the end, whatever we think about ourselves or an interaction isn’t a fact. Take a moment when a negative thought smacks you across the face like a woman you just told to “smile” & realize it’s not the absolute truth.
Then, if you feel like it, please go ahead & smile. 😊