Throughout the day, everyone has thoughts about themselves that pass through their mind. These thoughts are one’s self-talk. When self-talk is self-critical, self-loathing, or self-hating that is known as the inner critic.
COMMON THOUGHTS OF THE INNER CRITIC:
- I am stupid
- I don’t deserve happiness
- I am such a screw up
- I can never get anything right
- I am unlovable
- I am so messed up/ what is wrong with me
- It’s always my fault
UNDERSTANDING HOW SELF-TALK DEVELOPS
When growing up, kids develop beliefs about the world and their selves based on their environment and their surroundings. The people around them, especially caregivers, have a huge impact on this. What is modeled and the feedback one is given turn into these beliefs. This can turn into an inner critic when a child is raised in an environment where they are being directly or indirectly told negative things about themselves. Constantly being yelled at, invalidated, or abandoned will also likely lead to a very harsh inner critic. Children interpret all these things as “there must be something wrong with me.”
When dealing with a harsh inner critic, it is important to know where self-talk comes from so that you can separate past from present and make sure your self-talk is based on your current reality. The inner critic is often a projection from past events. Once you understand what the origin is, you can use that to help counter the inner critic. For example, if you grew up in a house where there was constant yelling, as an adult you often “yell” at and criticize yourself. Once you can make the connection that this is just internalizing the environment from your past, you can then more easily separate present facts from the interpretations you put on it. Now, instead of yelling at yourself, you can say “I was constantly being yelled at when I was younger, but that was then, it does not fit with the facts of the present situation.” You can also tell yourself “just because there was a lot of yelling then, doesn’t mean I am stupid and can’t do anything right.” The more information at your fingertips, the more you can use to change the inner critic to a more positive self-talk.
HOW TO CREATE A MORE POSITIVE SELF-TALK
- Analyze where the negative self-talk and inner critic came from. The inner critic is not really one’s own voice, you are hearing what your parents, teachers, peers, etc. were telling you when you were younger. In order to undo that, you need to be able to separate what the inner critic is telling you from the facts of any given situation. You can do this by asking the following questions:
- Whose voice am I hearing? Think about caregivers, teachers, siblings, peers, etc.
- What does this remind me of from my past?
- What is familiar about this?
- What were things like for me growing up at home, school, with friends? What are similarities that I am experiencing now?
The overall idea with these questions is to make the conscious effort to understand your thought processes. The answers are there, and while it can be difficult to tap into this information, you can’t do so without at least trying.
- Change the inner critic into an inner cheerleader. Flip the negative self- talk into a positive. Ask yourself what is the opposite of the inner critic voice you are hearing. Examples:
- I am such a screw up vs. I am doing my best and that is enough
- I am so messed up, what’s wrong with me vs. I am human and no one is perfect.
- I am stupid vs. I am a strong, smart, capable person
- I don’t deserve happiness vs. I deserve to be treated with respect
- I can never get anything right vs. I am not defined by my mistakes
- I am unlovable vs. I am worthy of being loved
Repeat the positive thoughts over and over. It can be hard to believe the positive self-talk; therefore, the more you repeat it the more you will believe it. It follows the “fake it ‘til you make it” concept.
- Check the facts of any given situation. We often find “proof” that our inner critic is correct and that just reinforces our negative self-talk. If you can start checking the facts and separating reality from your assumptions and interpretations, you can create more long-term positivity. Steps to checking the facts:
- What is the emotion I am feeling?
- What was the prompting event (i.e. what happened that led me to feel this way)? Stick to the facts, taking out emotions and personal perspective.
- What are the interpretations and assumptions I put onto this event?
- Where did those interpretations and perceptions come from/ what past-experience led that to be my go to assumptions?
- What could be an alternate explanation or thought?
- Take out judgments. When you are putting evaluations on yourself as good or bad, change the narrative to something more neutral. Stop identifying all your behaviors and emotions as reflective of you as a person. For example, if you are late to meet a friend, don’t judge yourself as “a bad friend.” These kind of thought processes just reinforce the inner critic
It is not easy to change one’s self- talk. It is important to remember that it takes practice and you need to be patient with yourself. The inner critic is usually very ingrained and it will take work to undo that. This is where therapy is helpful.