Ever find yourself thinking things like “I shouldn’t have said that!” or “Why did I do that?” or, more positively, “I nailed it today!”?
What are you thinking right now, as you’re reading this?
What you’re experiencing is an internal thought monologue, also known as “the voice inside your head,” or your “inner voice.” It’s perfectly normal. Think of it like the Netflix show You, where the protagonist Joe narrates his thoughts –but without his creepy intentions. This internal conversation might be nothing more than mundane observations or self-queries like “Did I turn off my flatiron?” when leaving the house or “What’s for lunch?” when you’re hungry. Or more emotional concerns might be on the internal agenda.
This inner conversational capability is thought to develop during childhood, at the same time as external communications skills begin to flower. However, not everyone experiences an internal monologue — others think in a more visual way. It’s perfectly normal if you don’t experience an inner monologue as described here.
Your inner voice is actually helpful for problem solving, critical thinking, emotional self-management and behavior regulation. Because the voice inside your head can sound like your own, it is usually tied to your sense of self.
Your inner voice can serve as a cheerleader, encouraging you to persevere or reinforcing feelings of accomplishment. Unfortunately, it can also be a harsh critic, exacerbating mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
What kind of messages is your inner voice feeding you, and how do they make you feel?
Your inner critic voice may surface in times of stress and doubt, pummeling you with extremely judgmental messages about your capabilities, looks, or actions, making you think that “I’m not smart enough” while studying, or calling you names (“stupid,” “fat,” “failure,” “ugly”).
Pediatrician and teen health expert Dr. Anisha Abraham says, “With constant exposure to social media, pressure to fit into a peer group, demands from parents and coaches, and other stressors, teens nowadays are particularly vulnerable to being self-critical.”
A constant inner stream of criticism isn’t normal or healthy. This destructive inner commentary negatively affects your self-esteem, confidence, and performance at school and work, causing you to quit when things are hard, or to not try at all. However, it’s important to recognize these hurtful thoughts when they surface — because ignoring them just doesn’t work.
If you push aside negative thoughts or emotions rather than addressing them, they are more likely to recur and to intensify. If you’re constantly battling your inner critic, here are some suggestions to help you quiet this negative monologue — to say, as Alberto teaches the title character in the Pixar movie Luca, “Silenzio, Bruno!”
4 ways to silence your inner critic
Acknowledge your thoughts – Our brain is a busy place. As well as running our body systems 24/7, thousands of not-very-organized thoughts swirl around our mind every day. “By one estimate, each day, an average person thinks fifty thousand spontaneous thoughts…chaotic and mostly repetitive from one day to the next,” says Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic.
As mentioned, it’s important to recognize self-critical thoughts when they surface and to maintain a healthy balance, by separating the facts from exaggerated reactions and feelings that are simply not true. Most importantly, don’t let these thoughts bully you. It might also help to identify the source of and possible motivation for these negative thoughts (for example, an incident from childhood) as a way to keep them in their place.
Change the narrative – When your inner critic starts to kick in, replace the negative thought with a positive one. This practice will be hard at first. Start by questioning your thoughts. If you’ve been thinking, “I’m not good enough to make the team” you can say, “How do I know? I’m trying my hardest and maybe I AM good enough.” In other words, reroute the inner critic with a positive affirmation, keep your inner monologue light, and actively try to go easier on yourself.
What would your friends say? – This is a serious question you should ask yourself! If you talk to a friend about your feelings of doubt, they will respond with compassion and words of encouragement because they believe in you and they care about you. So be a friend to yourself. Live by the rule “If I wouldn’t say these hurtful things to a friend, then I shouldn’t say them to myself either.”
Use your inner voice for the better – Your inner critic has a positive role to play, protecting you from danger and helping you to set standards and stay on track. Once you learn how to silence your negative thoughts, you can learn how to use your inner critic to help you choose your path and make better decisions in life. Reframe your inner comments with thoughts like “I’m capable of achieving my goal. What do I need to do or change to be successful?”
How can we help?
If you are having a hard time navigating your inner critic and maintaining positive thoughts, consider talking to a health professional. A good first step is to look for a safe person and space in which to talk. The Bougainvilla House is here for you, with an understanding and welcoming environment for you and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help if you or someone you love needs to overcome anxiety and depression or work on skills that help tame the inner critic and build self-confidence.
The Bougainvilla House also offers Parenting Workshops to give you the tools that will support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.
Call now to find support that works for you and your family: (954) 764-7337.