Do you have a critical inner voice? If you were to listen to your own thoughts, would you say they’re kind or critical? Loving or mean? A combo of both? How do you talk to yourself and about yourself in your own mind?
The thoughts you have about yourself are not who you are but merely beliefs that you have thought over and over that came from the way someone else spoke to you or what they projected onto you. It usually stems from a whole host of people over the span of your life. What’s important to note is that it isn’t you, it isn’t real. It isn’t true. You are NOT the thoughts you have.
IDENTIFYING WHAT THE CRITICAL INNER VOICE IS TELLING YOU
Identify an area of your life where you are especially critical of yourself and then pay attention to what the criticisms are. As you discover what the self-attacks are, it is valuable to articulate them in the second person, as “you” statements. For example, instead of saying “I have a life that feels like enduring,” you would say “You have a life that feels enduring. You’re never gonna change.” The reason is because this is how the voice talks to you. When you express them as you hear them you can hear the hostility that lies beneath the thoughts. Take away I and use you as your inner critic does. This helps you begin to see that it isn’t you, it’s a voice criticizing you or telling you you’re not good enough. A voice that isn’t real, but simply thoughts you’ve repeated over and over that came from someone else.
IDENTIFYING WHERE IT CAME FROM
As you verbalize your critical inner voices in this manner, you will have insight into the source of your voice attacks. You will have unusual clarity, as you begin to recognize that the content and tone of the voice attacks is old and familiar; their voices are expressing attitudes that were directed toward you as a child. You may think, “That’s what my father used to say” or “That’s the feeling I got from my mother,” or “That was the atmosphere in my home.” Recognizing where the voices originated helps develop compassion for yourself.
RESPONDING TO THE VOICE
Now that you are aware the voice is there you can begin responding to it. If you have thoughts like, “You’re so stupid. No one wants to hear what you are thinking. Just sit in the background and keep your mouth shut!” You may respond with statements like, “I am not stupid! What I have to say is valuable and worthwhile. A lot of people are interested in me and care about what I think.” After responding, it is important to make rational statements about how you really are, how other people really are, and what is true about your social world. You may say something like, “The world isn’t a place where everyone else is brilliant and I’m the only stupid person. I’m not in elementary school anymore; no one is grading us. The truth is that people aren’t all that smart, and I’m not stupid. We are basically the same: interesting people who have interesting things to say about what they are thinking and experiencing.” Come back at it with the truth!!
HOW DOES IT INFLUENCE YOUR BEHAVIOR
As you begin responding to the voice and deciding it has NO power over you, you may be naturally curious and eager to understand how these patterns of self-defeating thoughts have influenced your past and impact your current behaviors. For example, if the voice says you’re stupid, you may recognize times when you acted less capable or confident as a result of having heard that self-attack. Having this understanding of how the critical inner voice has affected your actions is helpful when you want to change specific self-limiting behaviors.
CHANGING YOUR SELF-LIMITING BEHAVIOR
Once you have identified the areas in which you limit yourself, you can begin to change. You can do this by taking two actions: to not engage in the self-destructive behavior that is being encouraged by the critical inner voice and to increase the positive behaviors that go against the recommendations of the voice. For example, a person who believes they are bad with money can stop avoiding taking positive action and put money in a savings account every week. Regardless of what the voice says, you’re doing exactly what makes you good with money.
There are people who have gotten used to their critical thoughts and, although unpleasant, they are comfortable “living with” them. One woman even described them as keeping her company. When she stopped having as many self-attacks, she said she felt lonely and scared to be without them. Some people mistakenly believe that their critical inner voices are what keep them in line, so they fear that if they do not heed them, they will act badly. However, the more people act against their critical inner voice, the weaker its influence on their lives becomes. If they stick it out, people become more themselves and are able to achieve goals and live free from imagined limitations.
You can do this!