“Give up now. You can’t do this.”
“What’s the point? Everything you try is a failure.”
“You’re fat. And your hair looks weird. ”
“Your friends are all out having a great time without you. And they’re laughing. And all their hair looks amazing.”
I used to endure these kinds of comments on a daily basis. They eroded my confidence and made me feel terrible about myself. The worst part was realising they were coming from inside my own head. It was like the clichéd moment from horror movies: “The call is coming from inside the house!” except the house was my brain and the movie was my life.
You would never say such things to a friend, or even a complete stranger. (At least we hope not.) Why then, do we allow our inner voices to speak this way to us? Our inner voices can be crueller, less compassionate, and more damaging than we even know. So how do we tell this jerk to stop running its mouth and take its negative vibes elsewhere?
First, we must learn to hear our inner voice for what it is: a steady stream of criticisms that can damage our self-respect and hold us back from accomplishing our goals. This requires taking yourself out of the moment a bit and recognising that you’re sending yourself these messages.
Many of us have internalised negativity so completely that we don’t realise how often we reflexively speak down to ourselves. Whether we’re looking in the mirror and criticising our perceived flaws, struggling to multitask at work and at home, or taking on a new challenge that frightens us, sometimes a horrid little voice inside us tries to undermine our every move forward. How very rude!
Figuring out where this voice originates from is an intensely personal and often painful bit of detective work. Whatever negativity you may have stored up from your past – maybe it was critical parents, schoolyard bullying, failed relationships –uncovering its sources may take some soul-searching and honest confrontation of unpleasant truths. Don’t let fear put you off though. If you don’t feel ready to take on that process just yet, it’s more than okay.
The good news is, you can still learn to reprogram your inner voice to one that is more nurturing and compassionate. Like anything else, it takes a lot of a practice, so be patient with yourself as you get better at telling off your inner voice. The more you follow these steps, though, the easier you’ll find it becomes.
Step 1. Hearing – but not listening to – your inner voice.
It all begins with awareness. Start by being attuned to each time you are sending yourself a negative message. Recognise it for what it is, observe it, without judgment. Most importantly, don’t listen to what it’s telling you. Just acknowledge it without internalising it.
Step 2: Replace it with another message
Ideally, you can counter your inner voice with a more positive message: “You can do it. You will get through this. Your hair looks fantastic.” If you’re not quite there yet in terms of self-belief, it’s enough to just talk back to your inner voice. In fact, why not give it a name? I call mine Barbara. And when Barbara pipes up with her unwanted opinions, I shut her down. Firmly, but politely, as if she were someone at the next table in the pub or a fairly unpleasant co-worker I have to learn to tune out.
Others use the “angry parrot” method. Visualising your inner voice as a squawking bird, repeating its messages in a shrill, high-pitched screech in your ear first of all makes you realise how disruptive and irritating it is. Second, it serves as a perfect metaphor: your inner voice is just repeating what it’s heard in the past. There’s no intent behind it, no context: just an annoying voice mimicking phrases. Why not retrain your angry parrot with some new and more positive messages? Don’t be afraid to squawk right back at it.
Step 3: Repeat Steps 1 and 2 over and over
That’s it. There are really only two steps you need to follow. Isn’t that wonderful?
What’s important is you practice this daily. You won’t always be successful – and that’s okay. Our negative thoughts can be quite persistent. But you will find that over time, your inner voice stops being quite so critical and hurtful. Slowly but surely, you will begin to internalise the positive messages just as you did the negative ones from the past.
Remember: be patient with yourself. Treat yourself with the same compassion and care you would a friend or loved one. You deserve to have an inner voice that’s a champion, a cheerleader – not an angry parrot.