The inner critic – What do you say when you talk to yourself?
“You’re such an idiot!” Says the inner critic.
Would you let someone say this to your best friend? Probably not. But let’s be honest, how often do you say things like this to yourself?
We each have an internal “voice” that can run in the back of our minds all day long. This voice develops from childhood – watch a child learning to do something new and they talk to themselves o
ut loud reciting the instructions, coaching themselves through the task. This self-directed talk is known in psychology as private speech. As we grow older, this private speech gets internalised. It still talks us through learning new skills, but often it is at the edge of our unconscious awareness, and some people are mostly unaware of this self talk.
It’s not what we say to ourselves, it’s how we say it too
When this self-talk is critical and demeaning, it reinforces negative beliefs and attitudes about who we truly are. The tone and volume of this voice in our head affects our emotions just as if someone is saying the same thing to us. Try it… recall a time where someone shouted something really unpleasant at you. Notice the tone and the volume, and notice how you feel in that moment? Unfortunately the brain responds to inner criticism like it does to outer criticism, and this causes the same biochemical changes and mood changes too. So imagine what it would be like to have someone follow you around all day saying negative things to you… unpleasant eh?
Resolving Inner Conflict in the moment
The following technique can be used in the moment when you find yourself “stuck” because of your inner critic. Using
Step 1 – Breathe a little deeper and slower than you normally would.
Step 2 – Imagine you are breathing through your chest area.
Step 3 – Remember a time where you felt grateful for being alive, and breathe in to it.
Step 4 – Welcome your inner voice as you would a close friend.
Step 5 – What is the positive intent?
Step 6 – What are some of the ways you could move forward together?
Step 7 – Keep breathing. This is important!
Upgrading your inner voice
The inner critic is a learnt behaviour. If we practice negative talk, we get better at it! The good news is that we can replace the inner critic with a new “upgraded” voice that is more aligned with who we are now.
Step 1 – Commit to improving your awareness of your inner critic. Make a list of the more frequent self-defeating dialogues that go on inside, note the tone, the volume and the nature of the voice. Note how that voice makes you feel!
Step 2 – When you’re in a calm, positive mood, pick one from the list and think about how you would talk to someone that you care about. Someone that you mentor, support, help and encourage. Notice how you feel, act and talk towards them.
Step 3 – Turn that compassionate support towards yourself. How would you talk to yourself in the same caring, supportive manner
Step 4 – When you catch your inner critic talking negatively in those situations, take a few balanced breaths, slightly deeper and longer than your normal breaths, through the nose, and talk to yourself in that compassionate manner from Step 3.
Step 5 – Practice! You are what you practice! The more we can genuinely engage with these simple practices, the more our feelings and thoughts can start to align with a positive inner dialogue.
Remember: You deserve the same encouragement and compassion that you give to others!
Helmstetter, S., What To Say When You Talk To Your Self, 1991. Thorsons. Link here.
Feigenbalm, P., Private Speech: Cornerstone of Vygotsky’s Theory of the Development of Higher Psychological Processes. 2005. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Link here.