negative self-talk

Is your inner voice an asshole? Do you routinely say things to yourself like:

  • “Why can’t you ever speak up for yourself?”
  • “Why do you always mess up?”
  • “Yeah, the boss said I did a great job on that project, but she was just being nice”
  • “What’s wrong with me?”
  • “I’m just no good at (fill in the blank)”
  • “I’m never going to be able to (fill in the blank)”

Today you’ll learn why you’ve got that asshole in your head and my top 3 ways to shut them up! AND I’ve got a free gift for you to really shift that voice in your head so stick around!

Negative self-talk is a shape shifter and shows up in a bunch of ways:

  • Yeah buts
  • Always/never or why can’t I ever, language
  • Constant criticism
  • Telling you you’re not good enough, there’s something wrong with you
  • Basically being driven by fear of failure as opposed to driven from inspiration

Where Does My Inner Critic Come From?

Your inner critic is all about one thing really: shame. Yeah, you might think you speak this way to yourself because that’s how your mom or dad (or both!) spoke to themselves and it was the language they spoke to you – but it’s all from the same place. Shame.

I’ve talked about shame before but for now, I want to remind you that it’s when you don’t feel worthy, good enough, or if you feel self-conscious in any way. The job of our inner critic is to shame us first so we don’t feel the sting of others calling us out or shaming us (which, of course, we think they will, once they see who we really are).

Famed sociologist, Thomas Scheff, called shame the master emotion because it affects and drives so much of our thoughts, behaviors and how we experience others.

One of the big issues with shame is that it’s been taboo to talk about (Brené Brown aside — she’s relatively new on the scene)! Psychologist Gershen Kaufman says:

American society is a shame-based culture, but …shame remains hidden. Since there is shame about shame, it remains under taboo. ….The taboo on shame is so strict …that we behave as if shame does not exist

Guilt is just as powerful an emotion, but guilt ends up having a positive influence (I felt guilty about stealing that money so I took action and went and paid it back or never stole again) while shame is only destructive (No one in this room would like me if they knew who I really am). There’s no room for improvement and we don’t think we’re capable of change.

As Brené Brown says, shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.

Our patterns of negative self-talk often start in childhood. You might not realize that’s where it started because you’ve never really thought about what you were thinking as a kid. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who said I was crazy and that they had a loving, amazing childhood, only to find out that there were actually a number of ways they didn’t feel accepted by their parents or siblings.

 

There are Many Consequences of Negative Self Talk:

  • You’re thinking people are being negative when they’re actually well-meaning so there are tons of misunderstandings and misconnections.
  • Rumination and self-blame are linked to increased depression and anxiety.
  • Focusing on negative thoughts leads to decreased motivation and feelings of helplessness.
  • Limited thinking: Basically, the more you tell yourself you can’t do something, the more you believe it and your brain’s confirmation bias wants to prove you right so you find yourself less able to do things or finding them much harder than they need to be.
  • Perfectionism: You believe that “great” isn’t as good as “perfect,” and that perfection is actually attainable! In studies, high achievers do better than their perfectionistic counterparts because they’re less stressed so can think more clearly and don’t waste time down rabbit holes. They don’t pick apart a completed project, trying to zero in on what they could’ve done better. Instead, they feel happy and satisfied with a job well done.
  • Lots of relationship problems: When you’re constantly self-critical you can become needy and insecure as you look for others to tell you you’re OK. When partners or friends don’t show up in the way you think they should, you feel resentful and angry.
  • This might sound simple, but a big problem with negative self-talk is that it means you’re not speaking positively to yourself. Research has shown that one of the biggest predictors of success is positive self-talk so now your inner critic is stopping you from reaching your true potential and goals.
  • Your inner critics statements become self-fulfilling prophesies. If you’re always saying to yourself, “No one will ever love me” that’s likely what will show up. You might meet nice people but you either don’t notice them or think they’d never have anything to do with you. Or maybe you act so uncomfortable around them and present yourself as insecure, edgy, and uptight so they’re not interested. Your brain’s confirmation bias will drive you to prove yourself right.

Positive self-talk has been linked in the research to a host of benefits including:

  • Living longer (and if you’re nice to yourself, you’ll want to)!
  • Lower rates of depression and anxiety
  • Stronger immunity (greater resistance to the common cold, for example)
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills when things are hard or stressful
  • Higher relationship satisfaction. The research shows stronger, more connected relationships that also have more longevity

How to Shut Up Your Inner Critic:

Everyone’s a little different with what will work best when it comes to their inner critic so here are my top three, research-backed methods. You can do one or all three — whatever’s right for you.

Before I jump in I’ve got to say one thing first. All of these tools are absolutely effective and will absolutely help you BUT (you knew there was a but) I can teach you all the great tools in the world and if you don’t remember to use them, they’re not going to help you! So, there are two things you’ve got to do first, before these tools:

1. You’ve got to be mindful throughout your day or you won’t realize your inner critic has been yapping at you! You’ve got to be able to notice the voice to stop it. Learning to make mindfulness a habit is your number one priority.

2. It’s super important to start your day off with positive momentum and not let your inner critic gain momentum all day. Starting your day off with a different voice in your head is paramount.

#1: Self-Distancing

For a long time, psychologists have been suggesting something called thought stopping to silence your inner critic. For quite some time, however, the research has shown that this technique doesn’t really work because it’s been found that thought suppression leads to thought rebounding (where the thoughts come back quickly and sometimes even stronger).

So telling yourself “stop” or flicking a rubber band on your wrist won’t work for the long-term. But, before I go on I will say that you can use those tricks and then do a grounding exercise and have great results.

I’ve used grounding techniques with my clients for years and they’re very useful to stop negative thoughts because they help you get into your present moment and calm your overactive amygdala/fear brain.

But let me get back to this tip. Ethan Kross, of the University of Michigan’s Emotion & Self Control Lab, and his colleague Ozlem Ayduk, of the University of California, Berkeley have been studying your inner critic for awhile and they concur with the research that the solution isn’t to try to suppress the critic because that voice will just keep returning.

They’ve also found that it’s not really effective to sit and analyze your emotions when your critic is on a roll because that can open you up to lots of rumination and reliving those feelings and getting even more stuck in your negative cycle.

Instead, they suggest responding to what your inner critic is saying from a detached perspective; almost as if you were another person.

This technique is called self-distancing. Basically, you replace the word “I” with a pronoun like you, she, he or they when you’re talking about yourself, or you can just use your own name.

For example, I have a brilliant client (we’ll call her Ana) who was born with every disadvantage: her family had escaped the death squads in El Salvador and she grew up in the US in poverty, often going to bed hungry, with no extended family around and parents who didn’t speak English. Despite having to work from a very young age to help bring money in, she received a full scholarship to an Ivy League University and maintained a 4.0 GPA for her four years there.

After graduation she got an amazing job but, once she started work, she was full of self-doubt and her inner critic was on fire telling her how she was in way over her head, that she’d tricked these people into hiring her, who was she to have a job like this making more money than she’d ever dreamed of, and she was sure she was going to crash and burn any minute.

She found self-distancing very useful. She’d ask herself, “Why was Ana so confident at school, no matter what was thrown at her, but now she feels like she can’t do the work at this company?” “Why does she think it’s going to be so different than when she was at college?”

When you’re saying “I’m such an imposter” there’s no distance and it’s easy to get caught up in pain and panic. But when you talk about a situation in this third-person style, you’re self-distancing enough to engage the thinking part of your brain and you can see things more rationally and with some clarity because it can seem like it’s happening to someone else.

Very close to self-distancing is another effective tip I want to throw in here which is to remind yourself that the negative voice in your head isn’t you! That’s not you talking to you! That voice is from your past. It’s likely a combination of voices: a parent, sibling, coach, teacher, friend or even a stranger who said something to you that stuck.

You’re further detaching and distancing yourself from your inner critic when you realize it’s not you and then give it a name. Next time you hear your inner critic you can roll your eyes and say, “Oh, there goes Diva again. Damn, she’s on a tear today! Maybe I need to give her a bath or a cookie.” You can name your inner critic whatever you want but my suggestion is to make it as light and funny as possible to continue to distance from that voice and diminish its power. “I’ve got no time for you right now, Karen, please show yourself to the door.”

#2: Use More Accurate Language

As you hear yourself saying that you never know what to say or that you always clam up at work, stop yourself and get more real and accurate with your language. “It’s true that I’ve been having trouble talking to my boss lately, but I’ve certainly been in many meetings where I had no problem voicing my opinion.”

“It’s not true that my husband never has my back. There have absolutely been times when he’s been there for me (put in specific times here).”

“I can never do anything right” becomes “Yup, I messed that up today. Sometimes I’m on it and sometimes I’m not.”

Notice catastrophizing or generalizing statements and break them down to more accurate, true statements.

Your inner critic and negative self-talk offer you no room for growth or change. We end up talking ourselves into a corner where we’re stuck with no options. So, add the word “yet” to a sentence. “I haven’t figure this out yet.” “We haven’t been able to improve our relationship yet.” The word yet offers hope, possibilities, brainstorming and problem-solving instead of despair and feeling paralyzed.

It’s also important to realize that your inner critic isn’t the enemy. This idea is backed by an effective approach called Internal Family Systems (IFS), which was developed by Harvard psychologist Richard Schwartz. IFS says that your inner critic is just one of many subpersonalities all fighting to be number one. The idea is to see your critic as a protector who’s actually on your side (even though it’s misguided). So, your inner critic is telling you you’re not good enough in an attempt to protect you from someone else saying it! You can learn to thank the critic for trying so hard to protect you and then use more accurate language to tell it, lovingly, to shut the hell up.

#3: Be Loving and Kind to Yourself

I want you to start practicing loving-kindness meditation on the daily. Now stop rolling your eyes and telling me “I can’t meditate” because I’m going to make it SUPER easy for you and give you a link to a free gift to make this a no-brainer that’ll only take a few minutes of your time a day. I mentioned this in last week’s podcast too and here’s yet another reason to use it!

Let me explain a bit about what loving-kindness meditation really is and why it’s a research-backed, seriously effective tool for shutting up your inner asshole.

Basically, any loving kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of compassion, love, kindness and warmth towards yourself and other people.

Research shows that Loving Kindness Meditation has a HUGE amount of benefits!

  • It helps you shut off the inner critic and negative voice in your head and reduce self-criticism as well as depressive symptoms – can you say bingo?!
  • It decreases negative emotions and increases positive ones!
  • It increases feelings of social connection and decreases loneliness!
  • It’s effective even in small doses; research shows you can literally do just a 10-minute meditation and feel more connected and happier
  • It increases your compassion and empathy for yourself and others
  • And it’s even been shown to decrease migraines and chronic pain!

 

I want you to listen my loving kindness guided meditation. Then, listen to it every day, for one week and watch the changes happen. As you become more peaceful, compassionate and loving, not only will your inner critic become muted, but your life will open up in new ways.

Resources:

Shame: The Silent Killer in Your Relationship

The Real Reason You Have Negative Thoughts (and 2 Things You Can Do About It)

What Anxiety Really Is and How to Deal with It (Grounding Techniques)

Loving Kindness Guided Meditation

Optimism Jumpstart Workshop

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