Monday 6 December 2010

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Hello Ana,

So you want to stop criticising yourself, so you've recognised your "self talk" - what the voice in your head is saying. These voices are often our most severe critics, and they crush our self esteem, and trap us in small unhappy lives. I noticed your comment about not being able to afford coaching (there's a video about there here by the way), so I thought I'd outline some techniques you may find useful on your own. The process is usually the same for clients whose self-criticism is powerful, and here it is:

1. Over time, raise your awareness of your self-talk. Get to the point where you are consciously aware of what it is saying.

2. Extract the essence of the criticism. Is it about being UGLY? STUPID? DOOMED TO FAILURE?

3. With your intellectual mind, not your emotional mind, analyse that criticism for truth. Is it true? Is it a vast exaggeration? This step is very hard for clients to do on their own, because their own irrational thinking is the problem, and we're asking that same irrational mind to be rational, but if you can separate yourself from your pain, then you can make progress. In all cases I have ever worked with, the client's self-talk is grossly inaccurate, so if you're not reaching that conclusion, you're not doing it right :o)

4. Maintain your vigilance on your self-talk. Listen to it carefully, but now evoke the intellectual conclusions you drew in step 3, and de-value your critical thoughts. See the person speaking inside your head as a child who is hurt. They're not wicked, but they are WRONG. Don't hate them, but don't believe them either. Over time, you'll get good at this, but it is WORK that must be done well.

5. After a week or so in step 4, depending on how it goes, change again to try to end the thoughts you've been watching. Think of your mind as a camera - you can point it where you like - so take control of it. Or think of it as a computer program - it can only run when it has access to the computer processor - and that's you, so deny it access. Sounds simple, but it's not easy to do. Sometimes a stop phrase is helpful. Let's say your negative thinking is all around UGLY. You might develop a phrase which captures a time when you felt beautiful. Now think this phrase over the negative thinking to drown it out. You can take this further with a technique called anchoring which you can read about here:

This is essentially a de-programming exercise; it's difficult to do because the old programming will be very tenacious, but it is certainly do-able. I run this process in parallel with another tactic designed to take clients out of their comfort zone a little - just into the stretch zone. This involves finding a playground - a place to be and to experiment with new behaviours.

All through this I'm usually helping my client with negative thinking, helping them to let go of persistent "truths" ("mistaken certainties"). I don't have time to explain that here, but you probably have enough to think about for now, anyway.

I hope you find that useful, Ana.

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