Your inner critic isn’t yours

Mental Health

What does your self-talk sound like? For most of us, it’s focused on negativity and can be destructive to our self-esteem. But, as life coach and author Michelle Elman reveals, there are ways we can reduce its volume…

Your own personal cheerleader, rooting for you, and boosting your confidence every step of the way – that would be our ideal inner voice, but in reality, more often than not what we get is an inner critic.

According to a study published in Nature Communications, the average person has 6,000 thoughts each day. That’s a lot going on inside our heads, and it would be fair to say that not all of them are going to be positive and productive.

Let’s say you drop a plate and it smashes; what’s the first thing you say to yourself? “You’re stupid. You can’t do anything right. You can’t even hold a plate, so how on earth are you meant to take care of yourself?” Now think back to your childhood; what would the grown ups in your life say if you broke something? Notice how the words are similar. Your inner critic is not your own voice – it’s largely formed of your worst critics as a child. But more than that, these incidents can impact how your identity forms, so if it was always a big deal when you smashed something, and you were labelled as clumsy, you may have formed a hypervigilance around dropping things, and therefore your brain remembers those events more significantly.

“You don’t need your inner critic to be silent, you just need to lower the volume”

Those memories can create an insecurity around clumsiness. If you were fortunate enough to grow up in a household where mistakes were not a big deal, your inner voice would sound more like what you heard. “Oh well, it’s just a plate.” Or “Let’s sweep this up before anyone gets hurt,” “Oh no, I’m gutted, I loved that plate!” You may be more capable of being disappointed about the damage, without blaming yourself or using the broken plate as proof of your incapability.

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Once we become aware that we all have doubts running around our minds, and that most of the time what we tell ourselves isn’t pleasant or helpful, we will seek to address this by trying to fight that thought by attempting to get it to shut up. But that doesn’t work! Instead, what normally happens is that the thought will get louder. The more you focus on not thinking that thought, the more the thought will exist, and that’s because the subconscious mind can’t hold a negative.

Daniel Wegner, a social psychologist, coined this term as ‘Ironic Process Theory’. Ask your mind to not think of a white bear and in order to avoid it, first your brain has to think of the bear. The same happens if you say, “Everyone hates me,” and then you follow that thought with, “Don’t think about how much everyone hates you.” The best action against this: stop fighting the thought!

To quieten your mind, you need to let the thought exist, relax your jaw, and look upwards. Want to know who talks to themselves the most? The ones with the most chiselled jawlines. When you relax your jaw, it becomes harder to maintain a conversation in your head.

The reason you look up is because eye patterns are connected to our neurology. In order to talk to yourself (called accessing your auditory digital in life coaching), you need to look down. When you look up, you access your visual pathways, which helps to quieten your mind. You don’t need your inner critic to be silent, you just need to lower the volume.

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Let the thought exist as if it’s an item you get to choose as it floats through your mind. You can see the thought, decide “That doesn’t apply to me”, and let it drift out your mind. A thought only exists in your head for a millisecond, but it’s when you attach value to it that it sticks. Instead, realise that just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s not about accurate or inaccurate thoughts, it’s thoughts that serve you and thoughts that don’t.

Paying attention to the thoughts that serve you creates more room for them – and, in turn, pushes out negative ones. The fact that a lot of our thoughts are repetitive, is not the problem. It’s which ones you’re replaying. Imagine a playlist on shuffle; when a song comes on you don’t like, you hit ‘next’. Do that with your thoughts!

To learn more about managing your thoughts or to connect with a counsellor, visit www.counselling-directory.org.uk

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