Maybe you made a mistake at work, said the wrong thing to a friend or forgot to send off that email – that inner critic starts up, ‘I’m such an idiot!!’. You carry on with the day but with the very next minor slip up, that inner critic pipes up again, ‘What’s wrong with me, I can’t do anything right?!’’. As the day goes on the inner critic gets to freely narrate your actions and it can have a huge effect on your day and mindset, but why do we do this and how can we manage it?
The inner critic refers to your internal voice that tends to be harsh, demeaning and judgemental. This voice tends to remind us of all our mistakes and shortfalls, and is often highly unfair or unrealistic – which as you can imagine takes its toll. Some people are well aware that they are overly harsh on themselves, its perhaps a normal part of their day. For some it’s something that goes unnoticed, they simply find themselves struggling with the effects of low self-esteem and a negative outlook.
For many it is absorbed from our environment, perhaps you’ve been regularly criticized or rarely praised. Sometimes it’s a learned habit that has become part of your life. Either way it can have a huge impact on us and those around us. So what can we do about?
Firstly, remember its not something that changes over night. It takes time, practice and patience to overcome. Secondly, remember its not possible to eliminate all negative thoughts entirely but by allowing them to pass and not become our narrative it reduces their harm significantly. Lastly, understand it will take effort to change the dialogue in your mind, if you feel like you are willing and able, here are some steps that can help you do so:
- Be aware: sometimes we find ourselves struggling with pessimism and low self-esteem with no real idea of what is causing it. Take time to notice how you speak to yourself. You can even jot these down to keep track for a day or two.
- Be fair: often these thoughts are extreme and unreasonable. Perhaps you are one of the top students of your year but still somehow feel like a failure. Ask yourself, is this thought fair or reasonable? This will help you take note of impossible standards.
- Be present: many times our inner critic takes us back to a past failing. This may be right after you’ve had a major success or had a bad day, suddenly you’re thinking back 5 years to a mistake or regret. This is not helpful and it acts as an anchor on your life. Remind yourself, that was then but I am here now.
- Be kind: a helpful tool when dealing with any kind of negative self-talk is considering whether or not it is kind. Would you ever say these things to a loved one or even a stranger -if not, then why would we say them to ourselves? Remind yourself, would I say this to a loved one?
- Be balanced: perhaps you’ve just caught yourself thinking something awful, instead of chastising yourself for being negative (this only adds feelings of guilt), instead try and add a more balanced alternative. For example, you’ve noticed your thought ‘I’m not going to get that job, I’m such a failure!’, take a breath and rework the thought to be more balanced ‘I’m really nervous about hearing back from that job, but whether I get it or not I’m glad I put myself out there’. You can also take time to praise yourself where possible, even over small everyday things.
When in doubt, take a breath and ask yourself ‘is this true, is this kind, is this necessary?’. And remember, we can either be our own biggest supporter or our own biggest enemy, whichever we chose to nurture will grow.
The article is written by Lauren, Trainee Counsellor at The DMC Clinic. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.