How to ditch the critical self-talk

I talk to myself all the time. My inner voices pipe up in quiet moments – in front of the mirror, while doing the laundry and lately, on the dance floor. Something about moving my body in a room with other people where it’s too loud to talk lets me hear myself think. The dance club has become something of a healing temple for me. Last Friday night on that dance floor, deep in the groove of a tough week, I heard a voice say, “Honey, you are doing the best that you can.”

My inner voice has not always been so kind. Our inner voices know us better than anyone else, so they can cut to the bone. We all have an inner bully that tells us we are not good enough or strong enough or that we don’t deserve love. It takes practice to cultivate a kind, supportive, encouraging inner voice.

We are constantly talking to ourselves, whether we notice we are doing it or not. We live in a constant narrative, simply because we are beings who think in language. Practices like yoga, meditation and writing can help us quiet our inner bullies and cultivate our inner guides. Writing can speak to these voices in their own language, as it were: in words.

According to psychologist Judith S Beck, author of Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond, our cruel inner voices represent negative core beliefs, old ideas about ourselves that lurk in our subconscious minds. Usually these beliefs fit into one of three categories: helplessness, unworthiness or unloveability.

We start by writing down what our inner bullies most often have to say. When we can see the words in black and white, it may be easier to see through the words to the deeper belief. If I tell myself when I look in the mirror, “You are so ugly!” I can consider what “ugly” means to me.

I’ve learned from the culture I live in that, as a woman, if I’m not attractive, I’m not worthy of love. I don’t believe this rationally, of course, but it somehow got into my field of consciousness enough to pop up when I look in the mirror.

It doesn’t work to simply contradict myself: “I’m the most beautiful woman in the world!” The inner voice just laughs at me – I don’t believe me for a moment. Rather, I can begin a dialogue. I write down some questions for the belief and try to answer them: “What evidence do I have that this statement is true?” “If I truly am ugly, does that mean I’m not worthy of love?”

Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine I’m talking to someone I love. Would I tell my friend I thought she was ugly? Of course not. If I actually believed my friend was ugly, would that mean I think she doesn’t deserve to be loved? No way. The belief only holds up against myself, not against the ones I love. So the belief is not true.

Now we can search for a protective phrase that can help destabilize negative core beliefs when they arise. Read back what you wrote, looking for phrases that ring true for you no matter how you are feeling: “Everyone deserves love, no matter what they look like.” “How I look does not affect my ability to be kind.” These are the phrases you can keep with you in your back pocket for when your inner bully decides to pipe up. Over time, these conversations with yourself may begin to shift. Then, one day, there you are on the dance floor, murmuring inner bullies trying to speak up, and a clear voice rings out, “Honey, you are doing the best that you can.”

“The Delicate Art of Talking To Yourself” by Julie Peters was originally published on Spirituality & Health.

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