Have you ever caught yourself thinking things like this?
- I’m no good, and I never will be
- I should be a better spouse/parent/friend
- I just can’t handle things
- I’m stupid, worthless, never good enough
- I should have more energy
- I shouldn’t be so exhausted all of the time
- Other people can manage their lives, but not me
- What’s wrong with me?
- People say I should snap out of it, but I can’t because I’m too weak
Negative self-talk comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Here are some things to look out for:
- Catastrophizing: Do you tell yourself that something is far worse than it actually is? Generally, catastrophizing happens when you make a current situation, or imagine making a future situation, a catastrophe. Sentencing yourself to these negative outcomes tends to eliminate your ability to see other possibilities.
- Black and white thinking: Does your inner bully tell you things are either all good or all bad? Black and white thinking is thinking in extremes, rather than recognizing that most situations fall somewhere in the middle. This sort of thinking tends to keep you from seeing the complexities of the world as they really are.
- Mind-reading: Are you assuming you know what other people are thinking about you, about what you’ve done, or who you are? Mind-reading is imagining what is going on in someone else’s head without any real evidence. But really, it’s a failure of imagination. Mind-reading tends to push thoughts toward the negative without considering the many neutral or positive possibilities.
- Emotional reasoning: Do your emotions make decisions over reason or values? Emotional reasoning is the habit of believing something is true because it feels true. Using emotions as the only evidence for your thoughts can result in depression and procrastination.
…but why do I bully myself?
Bullying yourself or having a negative inner voice can manifest from lots of situations: bullying, trauma, friendships, family issues, lack of self esteem, confidence or a multitude of things. But what matters is that you approach yourself with compassion in order to live a happier life.
Develop self compassion by:
Acknowledging what it feels like to be a victim
Allow yourself to really feel what it’s like to be treated so harshly. Note how it pulls you down.
If you become wrapped up in your self-criticisms, consciously refocus on what it feels like on the receiving end of those criticisms. If you have difficulty doing this, imagine how a caring person (such as a good friend) would treat you more positively. They wouldn’t criticise you, because they see you in a kinder light. The idea here is that you understand the damage of self-criticism and so begin questioning yourself when you do it.
Here’s the part where you think this through rationally. Remember early life experiences when you were hard on yourself; and choose to re-experience emotions from that time. Hold onto them until you have a really good sense of them. Then reflect upon how life events influenced you to be so hard on yourself. When did you first start to do this? And, what purpose did it serve? For instance, you might have been an anxious child who was driven to be perfect; and/or, you might have been a child who felt that you needed to excel at school or in sports to get your parents’ approval. In either case, you might find that you were using self-criticism as a way to drive yourself; and ultimately gain the acceptance you craved.
Approach yourself with understanding and compassion
Hopefully, in going through this process, you will feel a natural compassion toward that younger you. If you slip back into self-criticism (your younger self’s perspective), consider again how a good friend or nurturing mother would respond to that younger you – no doubt with compassion.
Observe your bullying perspective
Pull back, and observe this earlier experience from your current, adult perspective. Recall how you needed acceptance and support. So, you pushed yourself and did the best you could at the time to have those needs met. Unfortunately, although your goal was a positive one, driving yourself to do better ultimately made you feel worse about yourself.
Learn what triggers your Inner Mean Girl and be prepared for her attack.
Know what your top inner voice “hot spot” is — does she show up in your career, relationships, with your body or money? When you get afraid or stressed in this area, remember it’s your Inner Mean Girl attacking, it’s not your truth.
Tip: Journalling can be very beneficial to clearing your head and finding the root cause of your inner critic.