How to Control Your Critical Inner Voice

Hi everyone,

So some of you may have already seen from my post ‘How to Deal with Uncertainty in Life‘, that I’ve been going through a number of life changes recently and that I’ve been keeping everything crossed that I will be able to move and get my ‘happily ever after’ with a beautiful new home and new life for the children and I.

After I published the post, there followed a tense few weeks of uncertainty. I truly didn’t know how things would turn out and whether the life I was hoping for would happen. In anxious moments, I turned to myself for advice by re-reading what I had written! That may sound strange but for those going through difficulties in life, I have found that writing things down can really help you. It focusses your mind and when done constructively, can help you make a plan, work out your objectives and calm your emotions by applying rational thinking.

Luckily for me, things are now heading in the right direction and fingers crossed we should be moved in the next few months, However, I had many thoughts during those few weeks about what might happen and I realised that after a rather long period of feeling stressed and worried, I was now spending a lot of time listening to my positive inner voice who kept me calm and allowed me to trust that no matter what, we would be okay. So it got me thinking about the whole subject of our inner voice and how it can define us as individuals…

Living with Our Inner Voice

As people, many of us can be our own worst enemies, allowing negativity to consume us over a situation, taunting ourselves with self doubt. We close our ears to positive opinion and indulge ourselves in our negative inner voice instead. Our inner voice can either break us or make us, depending on which one we choose to channel. How many hours have we wasted on occasion, laying on our beds thinking negatively of all the things that are wrong or all the things that we are worried about? I am sure I am not alone in admitting I have been that person.

I am not entirely sure we are not meant to experience some of these emotions though, perhaps we all need that time to indulge the things that make us sad or worried a little. Isn’t that just part of being human? However, once we have experienced them, where do we take it from there? This to me is the key to developing positive emotional health. There comes a point where we have to draw the line and say ‘okay, so I’ve indulged that set of emotions or thoughts but now I’m going to set them free and try to do something positive about it, because not to do something, will only cause me emotional harm’.  Doing something about it may be as simple as closing the door on that voice and opening the door to a positive one instead. The one that’s kind to you and lifts you up when you’re feeling down. The compassionate one that doesn’t judge, but tells you, you will get through, it’s okay and gives you a mental kick up the butt!

Most of us have that positive voice in us but for some it doesn’t hang around as long as for others. Some of us live with a revolving door when it comes to our positive and critical inner voice and we constantly let the enemy back in the room, the one that makes us feel negative towards ourselves and hostile towards others. I like to think of mine as being a pretty good voice to hang out with but occasionally I need to get my boxing gloves on and throw the critical one a few punches to get myself back in shape, lipstick ready for the world!! I am also embracing how cheesy that may sound!

How Does Our Critical Inner Voice Affect Us?

People are in my opinion, a bit like icebergs. By that I don’t mean I think everyone is cold(!) but that there’s a lot more that goes on below the surface, than there is above. There is the face we present to the world and then there is the true us that only our closest, trusted loved ones see or in some cases we hide ourselves even from them. As an example of this, I experienced a very sad story many years ago when I worked in London.

I was working in recruitment at the time and worked fairly closely with one of the Manager’s of the company in question throughout the process. I remember him being likeable and chatty when we spoke on the phone. A few weeks into the process however, I rang to arrange an interview with him only to discover the terrible news, that only days after last speaking to him, he had taken his life. I was shocked and so was everyone, it turns out, that knew him. I had sensed nothing from his voice or the conversations we’d had, or the laughter we had shared, that he was keeping hidden such a dark sadness.

How we direct our inner voice throughout our lives has a direct impact on everything around us. It affects our relationships, the choices we make, our self esteem, confidence and self belief. Those with a strong positive communication with themselves will likely fair better in life and experience greater success and well-being, than those who listen and are controlled by their critical inner voice.

Our critical voice maybe one that is born out of the treatment we have received ourselves in life, how much love and encouragement we were shown by our parents, or how much external criticism we have received from others. It may come from comparing our lives or selves with people that we perceive have done or are somehow better than us. All of these factors help fuel the antagonistic and negative stream of thought that tells us all the worst things about ourselves. It is the voice that prohibits us from being the best version of ourselves, the one that punishes us relentlessly and is the internal bully that serves only to bring us misery.

Listening too closely to this side of ourselves will lead to self-limiting behaviour and influence the actions we take in our lives.

How to Control Your Critical Inner Voice

The first step towards controlling your critical inner voice, is simply by recognising that it is, in fact, controlling you. It’s controlling how you feel about yourself and the world around you. It is also important to recognise where your negative inner voices come from, whether it be from an early childhood experience, a critical boss or partner or through bullying at school.

If, for example, you were told you were stupid, useless, fat, ugly or boring enough times by someone, you are likely over time, to believe it and as a result, every time you make a mistake, fail at something or are set a challenge that is out of your comfort zone, you may well default to those critical inner voices who berate you once more for your actions or do their best to sabotage your confidence.  However, if you can find the root of some of these voices, you can learn to be more compassionate towards yourself.

Once you’ve become aware of the control this inner voice is having over you and you have developed a deeper understanding of where it has come from, then you can begin to challenge it.

For example your negative voice may say ‘Why bother trying to exercise, you’ll only fail in the end, like you always do.’ Now though instead of indulging this voice and allowing it to win, you can respond with ‘Well maybe I will fail or maybe I won’t, but if I don’t try then I will never know and better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all’.

If someone has been hurt in a relationship in the past, they may tell themselves ‘I am better off alone, at least I can’t get hurt then’. However, by listening to what may seem like the protective inner voice can also be the negative inner voice in disguise because it is preventing that person from potentially experiencing love again.

There’s also the inner voice that you direct at other people. The one that says ‘I dislike or hate this person because…he hurt me or is ruining my life / she puts me down / I don’t trust them’.  ‘I’m jealous of her/him because…’ This internal voice is the defensive one. It’s the one we have likely all endured at some point in our lives and is particularly powerful. If you are experiencing a difficult relationship in your life, whether it be personally or professionally, it can, if you let it, have a profound affect on your wellbeing and self confidence and can control yet again how you feel about yourself. However, as an exercise, take a long deep breath and become aware of how this external voice is affecting how you feel and think. Then attempt to use your positive inner voice to calm yourself by telling yourself ‘I will not allow this person to have control or power over me or my thoughts towards myself’. ‘I am choosing to disengage with how their words or actions make me feel.’  ‘They are no longer important, but how I feel about myself is.’ By doing this, it may not change the behaviour or the person you are dealing with but it will change how you react to it.

If you have experienced rejection either in a relationship or through work, rather than telling yourself ‘It’s because you are worthless, not attractive enough, not smart enough..’ say ‘They may not have recognised my worth but someone else will because I believe in myself. I know what I have to offer and the next company or person will be lucky to have me as a result’.

By listening to the negative voice you’ll never get off the starting blocks but by challenging it with some sass, you’re off to a good start. If I have a day where I feel a bit down on myself or a situation, I have learned to acknowledge that how I am feeling is mostly being fed by what I am thinking and vice versa. By identifying this to be the case, I am giving myself an opportunity to disengage with that thought process and to no longer listen to what it is telling me.

The more we challenge our critical inner voice, the weaker its influence becomes on us. However, for those who find it hard to not listen, then perhaps talking to a counsellor or cognitive behavioural therapist may help. One other way to learn to be kinder to yourself is to imagine the person you are talking to is a child, your child. Question, would I talk so unkindly to my own son or daughter in this way? What advice would I give them instead? Would I want a child to think like this about themselves? Would I forgive my child?

By learning to limit the attacks we place on ourselves, we can instead lead emotionally healthier lives with deeper meaning and love not just for those around us but for ourselves…

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