Sitting in a Singapore coffee shop before flying back home, I noticed a young father supervising his son’s homework
while dad sipped on his coffee and focused on his phone. I found it a bit depressing, watching this young lad trying to do
his best, but struggling, while dad doggedly insisted he persevere. This made me think about how our inner thoughts
develop and how they effect our lives. What was this boy thinking? “Dad thinks I’m fantastic! He loves me that’s why he
helps me.” or “Yes, I can do this, dad believes I can!” Or was it more negative self talk such as: “I’m trying but I’m never
going to be good enough for him. I’m useless! I’m stupid and will never be as clever as dad! He gets disappointed with
me, but if I work harder and become successful then he’ll love me.”
So what thoughts motivate you? How often do your thoughts turn into an inner critic to drive you endlessly and harshly,
rather than gently guide you with compassion? We all have days where our thoughts belittle us rather than support us.
From infancy onwards, we unconsciously absorb our family, cultural and society’s values, beliefs and reactions and this
can appear as an inner critic who at times can become ruthless and cruel, judging and criticising ourselves and others.
Don’t get me wrong, we all need our inner self talk to guide us, support and motivate us to attempt more difficult tasks in
our lives, rather than remain stuck in our old comfortable, well worn and limiting habits. Self talk is important.
So how do you tame your inner critic to support you rather than bring you down and limit you?
- Firstly, ask yourself, what does the self talk want? Is it trying to motivate you to achieve something, or is it just
criticising you, saying you are different from others in a negative way? For example ” I’m not smart enough. I’m not
attractive enough. I’m not loveable.” The inner critic NEVER believes you are good enough exactly as you are now.
2. If your inner talk is negative, pause a moment, take a breath and ask for evidence. Look at the facts rather than the feelings that are being stirred up by these comments! Is what you are telling yourself actually true?
3. What sensations do you feel when you tell yourself “I’m not good enough etc.?” Is there a jitteriness in the belly,
does your heart rate increase, do you start to feel edgy? These are physiological sensations in response to your inner
critic’s comments. You may name it as nervousness, worry, anxiety or fear. Our brain is wired to develop a narrative
around these sensations. So what do you do? Do you stay with the sensation or do you get drawn into a never-ending
emotional story you create to justify, control or move away from your initial sensations and feelings? Be curious and start
to notice what happens……….
4. What do you instantly do or think when you have this sensation? How do you react? Do you believe it’s unfair or
upsetting? Or do you automatically try to do something such as eat (hello chocolate!), drink, try to get away by being
busy, numb out, get lost in daydreaming, Facebook or gaming?
5. Notice how your brain begins to create a whole story to justify your initial unconscious emotional reaction?
You may blame others, “It’s all their fault” or blame yourself, “I can’t believe I said that, they must think I’m hopeless. I
know they don’t like me!” When you are taken by the emotional storyline your brain switches into defensive flight or fight
mode and you are no longer present in your body. You are reacting and merging with this created storyline.
6. How can you change this roller coaster reaction? Start to change your self talk by being gentle and kind. When
you hear the harsh words of the inner critic, look at the facts and express the same compassion you would to a dear
friend having a bad day. This time you give this loving kindness to yourself.
7. Learn to self soothe if these sensations and feelings become too harsh or uncomfortable. Take a moment and
breathe in and out of your heart. You may find it helps to place your hand on your heart as you inhale for about 5-6
seconds and then exhale slowly without force. This will help take you out of the brain’s survival flight/fight mode,
bringing your awareness back into your body and into the present moment; out of the chaotic, emotional whirlwind being
invented by the mind.
8. Use your self talk to remind, support and coach yourself. By speaking to yourself in the second person, studies
have shown it positively affects your mood and boosts your motivation. For example “Sarah, I know you can do this,
remember to relax, breathe, and just start on this task first …etc.”
These are just a few of the many tools available to soothe the inner critic and begin to develop a more relaxing, healthy
relationship with yourself. The use of humour, compassion and mindfulness can help you come back to the present
moment. Each time you stay with the sensations rather than run with the emotional story, you help change your old
reactions, rewiring the brain. Each breath can guide you back to being more present in your life.
I hope you have found this helpful.
Anne from Beyond Words Holistic Counselling