Mean Voice Inside My Head
I have a terrible habit of putting myself down a lot. I don’t usually say things out loud, but the thoughts in my head are quite negative, all of the time. How can I start being nicer to myself?
Signed: Mean Voice Inside My Head
Dear Mean Voice Inside My Head,
We all have a very natural ability to think the worst, about any given situation – and this includes what we think about ourselves. It is called negative bias, and we are born with this pattern firmly developed in our brain. It’s our natural tendency to see the worst in things before we consider anything else. It’s a great protection mechanism because it helps us stay alert for dangerous or problematic situations. But we can develop a habit of getting stuck in these negative thoughts too much of the time. And when that transfers over into the thoughts that we have about ourselves, it can create a pattern of bullying and self-degradation that is exceptionally unhealthy.
Human beings tend to believe that just because they think something (have a thought), it must be true. And, in fact, many of our daily thoughts are simply not accurate at all. Because the negative thinking/reaction tendency that I just described is innate, human beings must put energy and effort into learning the counter-responses that allow us to be more balanced. Thinking more realistically (less negatively) does not come naturally to us – we must teach ourselves how to do it, and then practice until it becomes our new habit.
Here are some strategies for learning how to change the inner dialogue that plays in your head, especially if the messages are critical, insulting and damaging!
- Pay attention, so you can recognize when it is happening. Nothing can change unless you are aware of the problem and are willing/ready to try something new, so you can get different results.
- Create a STOP technique that you can use every time you notice that your negative self talk is looping – visual ones are often most helpful. Picture a stop sign popping up or a cement wall blocking the message pathway. You need some way to interrupt the flow of the habitualized thought pattern.
- Replace the thought pattern you have interrupted with something healthier and more constructive. Focus instead on the lesson that was learned, or a positive part of the experience. Remember that whatever you feed is what you will reinforce.
- Make a list of positives about yourself – characteristics, behaviours, physical attributes, personality quirks – anything you are proud of and enjoy about yourself. Revisit these positives when you are in need of a healthier replacement thought. Learn how to feel comfortable being your own cheerleader.
- Keep a success journal. Find something in each day that you see as a moment of growth or accomplishment or success. Re-read this journal when your brain starts to play tricks on you by telling you that you are not good enough.
- Surround yourself with people who treat you well and think highly of you. If your friends show affection by insulting you or if they like to degrade you even in a joking manner, consider how the impact of their words is echoing and therefore encouraging (on a subconscious level) the negative self talk tapes that play in your head. Step away from this type of influence.
- Do things that remind you of your strengths and positives. Live your life in a way that embraces the things you enjoy and are good at. Challenge yourself to grow, but not to such a degree that the overwhelm is too big. There must be pleasure and satisfaction in your life experiences as well.
- Treat someone else in a way that reflects the kindness you want your own brain to show you. Building what we don’t yet have for ourselves, for someone else, is one of the fastest ways to create change in our own lives. Your brain is likely more willing to think positively about others. And the more you put this into practice, the more it will become a thought pattern that transfers over to how you relate to yourself as well.
- Learn how to enjoy mistakes. Get comfortable messing up. Push away from the “perfection” expectation you have developed in your head (even if it is a standard you only hold yourself to). Unless we can embrace failure as a natural and positive part of our life, we will fear it and react to it with negativity every time it happens (which usually means we attack/blame ourselves).
- Speak to yourself the same way you speak to your best friend, or to your kids, or to your partner. Get rid of the double standard – none of us are any better than the people we surround ourselves with. So, anything that you say to yourself should be equally worthy of what you would say to someone who matters to you. Walk your walk – treat yourself the same way you treat someone you care about.
I hope some of these strategies help you learn how to change the negative, unhealthy, mean tapes that you keep hearing in your head. You deserve better than that! This world is a hard, judgmental place. We need to do better inside of our own minds. We need to be sure that we come from a healthy, loving, kind and compassionate place within us, if we hope to be those same ways in the world around us.
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