We are all familiar with this nagging negative self-talk. The one that judges us and doesn’t miss a chance to beat us up. Reading through numerous books on self-development, one will inevitably come across numerous techniques on “how to shut up your inner dialogue”. A myriad of articles on “how to tame your negative self-talk” fall under the same category.
While I appreciate the input of every single opinion, I am somewhat skeptic towards the belief that dealing with the ‘symptom’ is the best way to overcome one’s challenges. Addressing the symptom is definitely not enough to put the issue behind you once and for all. Creating additional inner conflict and compartmentalization simply cannot be productive and beneficial. Think also of the inner strength you need to maintain this self-declared ‘war’ with yourself.
So while some suggest shutting your self-talk up, I strongly believe that making friends with your inner critic is a way forward.
Step 1: Acknowledge
Identifying your ‘enemy’ is the first step in dealing with it and unless you admit that the reason for you beating yourself up is your inner self-talk, there is not much you can do. Give it a label that you feel fits best. Call it ‘inner critic’, ‘negative self-talk’, ‘inner dialogue’ or anything else you might think of; having a label for this ‘behaviour’ will help you to deal with the issue.
Now that you have labeled the ‘behaviour’, it is time to learn to know it better. And in order to make best friends with your self-talk, you must become familiar with it. Ask yourself following questions:
- In the moments of self-talk, do you hear it as if you are saying it yourself or is it someone else’s voice?
- If so, who does it belong to?
- Is it a male or female voice?
- Is it loud or quiet?
- Is it emotional or calm?
- Does the voice change depending on the context?
- Where does this voice come from – is there a part of your body that you feel is ‘housing’ your inner dialogue?
- Can you say exactly what triggers it?
Explore this phenomenon as best as you can. Think how would you document a new species – pay the same degree of attention to every detail.
Step 2: Highest Positive Intention
As surprising as it might sound, behind our every action or behavior is a positive intention. The reason it doesn’t always work out well is that our subconscious mind – responsible for smooth ‘operation’ of our system – might sometimes get confused or is searching for the ‘quickest ways’ to achieve the goal thereby ‘cutting the corners’.
Ask yourself -or this voice- what it is trying to achieve. It often happens that our self-talk just serves the desire to be popular, loved or be a ‘good’ person. The driving force might be the desire to avoid responsibility or not to be judged or be in control. Whatever it might be, the understanding of the true reason is paramount in the process of making peace with yourself.
Step 3: Peace Treaty
Once you got to the root of the problem you can now get down to ‘signing the peace treaty’. First – acknowledge the need for that ultimate positive intention and then decide what other ways of achieving it will be more acceptable to you. Make sure that the new ‘pattern of behavior’ you are about to create is truly beneficial to you and to those around you. Causing bodily harm to someone just to make you feel in control -for example- wouldn’t be a great idea.
The more you start applying this new approach, the less you will need to deal with the negative self-talk. Be committed and patient; it takes time to form new habits and falling back to your previous behaviour every now and then is absolutely normal – as long as you acknowledge it and move forward.
Step 4: Keep It Talking
As I said earlier, I don’t believe that ‘shutting up’ your inner self-talk is a good idea. It can encourage you whenever you need it or serve other purposes. I’ve known people who made their sarcastic negative self-talk work for them in the most creative way – a self-talk that is narrating stand up comedy scripts is not a bad solution at all!