Does the voice in your head speak to you like a supportive coach or a mean bully who is never satisfied? If it’s the latter, is there anything you can do about it?
In psychotherapy we often refer to this negative internal voice as the ‘inner critic’. Identifying this voice as a part of ourselves (rather than the entirety of who we are) sometimes helps to create distance from this critical dialogue.
It can also lead to the important realisation that:
We don’t need to believe all our thoughts.
So, and honestly I don’t think I can stress this enough: just because you think you’re trash, doesn’t mean you are trash
How can we work with this difficult inner voice? In my opinion, increasing our awareness always needs to be step one. If we’re not aware of our own inner dialogue we’re likely to be buffeted around by how we habitually talk to ourselves, not really aware of the impact of what we’re saying and acting out the feelings and beliefs triggered from this dialogue on innocent bystanders and significant others in our lives.
So, you’re becoming aware that your internal dialogue is sometimes less than supportive. But what next? How can you, as P!nk puts it ‘Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead’? As a therapist and therapy geek, I’ve been really interested in how different models of counselling work with this presentation. This ranges from:
Critic as a ‘introject’ of a critical early caregiver – who should be argued with and stood up to (Therapists/writers such as Pete Walker)
Critic as a well-meaning but mis-guided child part – who is trying to get us to behave and do well, with the only tools it has, who should be understood and even sympathised with (Internal Family Systems).
So which approach is best? I’d say…. It depends (a typically vague therapist answer but stick with me)
What type of critic do you have? What do they want? Does this part of you ultimately believe that if they give you a hard enough time, you’ll get your act together and finally get the love and respect you need? Are its methods questionable but its intensions benign? If so, working to help this part understand that its approach is ineffective might be helpful (and any opportunity to roll out my favourite Louise Hay quote – ‘You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens’), along with working to develop a more compassionate internal dialogue (these exercises from Kristin Neff might be useful here).
Alternatively, you might have a critic who seems to hate you and wants to hurt you and you might feel scared by this voice. In this case, I’d recommend working with a professional to better understand and work with this dynamic, which can be quite complex.
Working to understand your inner critic and develop a compassionate inner voice can be a challenging thing to do alone. If this blog resonated and you’d like more help get in touch.