Imagine that you had a friend who did nothing but constantly criticise you – day in, day out. Someone who never left your side, belittling your efforts, putting you down and telling you, in no uncertain terms, that nothing you ever did was good enough: At home, at work, on the bus, in bed, in the shower…a never ending stream of put-downs and disapproval. Odds are that you’d show that ‘friend’ the door pretty quickly!
This is the core of negative self-talk. Your very own inner critic – that little voice who’s only too happy to tell you all the reasons why you can’t succeed at anything before you’ve even begun. For many people this kind of constant self-doubt is a daily struggle – so much so that you might not even realise you are stuck in a cycle of negative self talk. It becomes everyday and commonplace. You become convinced that it’s useless and there’s no point in even trying to change things.
Here’s the unexpected truth: Yes, you can.
Balanced self-criticism is actually a perfectly normal aspect of anyone’s normal thought processes. Like so many parts of our emotions and thinking patterns it has a ‘survival’ value – at its most basic your inner critic is a self-checking mechanism that ensures you aren’t trying to do something dangerous or harmful. Lone cavemen who didn’t listen to their internal critic’s warnings about trying to stroke the big, angry sabre-tooth tiger naturally didn’t live long enough to pass on their genes…
The problem is that sometimes normal self-criticism can become a constant barrage of negative self-talk – warping and distorting your perception of things like one of those crazy mirrors in a fairground fun house. Instead of a true reflection of yourself and the circumstances you’re in, you tend to see something that may not have a whole lot to do with reality.
Instead of operating as your friend and protector, that inner voice starts to undermine your genuine abilities and self-confidence – moving from being a valuable ‘reality check’ into the realms of excessive self-criticism. Negative self-criticism becomes a cycle of thinking which robs you of confidence and the ability to see situations clearly. This might be the time to Find a Counsellor
Over time negative thinking patterns become so established that you probably don’t even realise that you are focusing solely on your perceived faults and failures. A situation that only serves to reinforce your belief that what you are thinking is ‘true’ and can lead to a downward spiral into anxiety and depression.
Let’s go back to our opening scenario: Lets paint the picture here in our Pimlico Psychotherapy Clinic. Now instead of someone who berates you with constant criticism and doom-laden forecasts imagine a friend who encourages you to be more balanced in your thinking, offering positive alternatives to your ‘worst case’ fears and praising your efforts if things go wrong. Picture that friend being by your side, every minute of every day, giving you support and helping you to see yourself, as well as the world, in a more even-handed and realistic way. What kind of a difference would that make to your outlook and attitude toward yourself and life in general?
Suddenly, that persistent little voice is no longer the purveyor of negative self-talk that devalues your sense of worth and confidence but a balanced source of strength and perspective. That is a true friend.
Of course, breaking the established cycle of negative self-talk isn’t something you can achieve overnight – but never doubt, with the right combination of professional help and support – that you can turn that inner critic from your own worst enemy into your best friend.