You know the saying: "You are your own worst enemy."
The internal war is a form of self-sabotage that unfortunately so many of us are prone to. On the one hand we’re trying to feel better about ourselves.
On the other we’re desperately striving to escape the shame that ties us to the fundamental belief that we’re just not good enough, defective, incompetent, worthless, hopeless and not wanted.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to do everything possible to drown out such hateful thoughts?
The ensuing war is exhausting. One day you are up, the next day you are down. It’s a battle between two sides: the inner critical voice and the inner loving voice.
The inner critical voice is an embedded pattern of destructive thoughts directed toward others and ourselves. It makes up the belittling inner dialogue, which sits at the root of our self-destructive and negative behaviour.
The critical voice isn’t an illusion; it’s experienced as a barrage of loud thoughts. This streaming of harsh thought forms an enemy against our self and this deters us from acting in our best interest.
This negative voice is an enemy and can affect self-esteem, confidence, relationships, performance and accomplishments. It undermines our positive feelings about ourselves and others and foster tons of self-criticism, distrust, denial, addictions and a retreat from the reality of who we are.
Difficult To Detect
It can take us some time to identify this. A client explained to me,
It took some time for me to identify this critical invoice that you had been talking about. I had become so comfortable with my negative thinking. It was only later I realised it was there. I couldn’t see how critical I wasn’t myself. The negative messages have played so long in my head they seem normal. Then one day, at work, something happened to make me aware of that critical voice. I’ve made a mistake at work and I immediately heard this roar inside me “you idiot. You can’t do anything right. You’re useless.”
I stopped and suddenly recognised my mother’s voice. Over the next few days I started to recognize how much yelling I was doing to myself. That critical voice became distinctive and I couldn’t believe how nearly every sentence was critical and really, really harsh.
Where Does This Voice Come From?
Anyone who doubts that our parents had no influence on us only needs to listen to this inner critical voice. Often we can directly trace the statements back to our parents or even in our grandparents.
As children we pick up on the negative attitudes that parents not only have towards their children but also toward themselves. The chances are that our parents also carried their own critical voice together with shame and self-hate. They had projected their feelings onto us.
Sometimes this voice can be so subtle that it takes a long time to detect it. People have shared that the voice is very secretive and, and highly toxic, they dare not speak the words out loud.
Some Examples of Common Critical Inner Voice
Some common voices include:
You’re not attractive
You’re not like other people
You’ll never be successful
No one appreciates you
You can’t handle this job
She doesn’t really care about you
You’re better off on your own
Don’t be vulnerable; you’ll just get hurt
You can’t do anything right
Why don’t you get off your backside and do something
You should have got over this by now
Why bother, nobody cares anyway
You never get it right
Sometimes these phrases are so ingrained in us that we can’t even hear them. Remember that nothing keeps us more depressed than verbal abuse. These thoughts have as much power over us as if our friends were saying them; that’s how powerful it has.
How Can I Conquer My Critical Inner Voice?
In order to take power over this destructive thought process, we must first become aware of what our critical voice is telling us so we can stop it from ruining our life.
To identify this, we pay attention to when we suddenly become upset or slip into a bad mood . Often these negative slumps are a result of some messages from the critical inner voice.
Once we’ve identified the thought process and pinpointed the negative actions it’s urging us to take (like practice self hate) we can take control over the voice by consciously deciding not to listen. Then we can take a different action.
The Two Parental Voices
I like to think of the voices as the negative Parental voice and the soothing Parental voice. Here’s an exercise I do with clients to help them identify and challenge the negative voice with the soothing parental voice.
The Negative Parent
To start to hear the negative Parent in us, we can make this statement:
‘I want to put everything down and go out to play.’
Listen hard to the voice that follows the statement. For those of us who are depressed, the voice will usually sound critical and put up a barrier.
‘There is too much to do,’
‘This is no time to play,’
‘You’ve no right to start demanding pleasure at a time like this.’
We might find that the voice sounds exactly like that used by our parents when we were children. The more we delve into the parental voices, the clearer it becomes. In time we find that we can spot this voice in an instant. It doesn’t take long to develop this skill. Within three days of consistently listening to the internal criticism, we will have good clues to which voice is negatively parenting us.
The Loving Parent
So now we find the loving Parent inside us. We want to mobilize the loving Parent for our good. We can identify this loving Parent when we hear the soothing voice or the ‘pat on the back’ voice. It may seem hard to grasp this to begin with and if we struggle with this part of ourselves, we can actually ‘borrow’ someone else’s loving Parent for a moment.
To do this, we do something for someone else and wait for his or her response. If we help a short person by reaching for an item off the top shelf, let a harassed parent go first in the queue, or help an older person along the road, we will (usually) get a positive response. Then we can feel what it’s like to experience a warm glow in our stomach – the Child part of us.
Keep At It
With persistence we can start to separate the loving Parent away from the negative Parent and use the loving influence to put pressure on the nagging, critical voice that can dominate us.
This is called re-parenting ourselves. Re-parenting is simply about finding a new way to talk to ourselves which is supportive, constructive, gentle and firm.
We look for integration. Integration is the bringing together of all parts of us so that we may feel ‘whole’ or ‘complete’. Integration is about tempering the negative Parent, soothing the hurting part of us and sourcing the wisdom on how to do this from our loving parent.
Ending The Internal War With Our Inner Selves
Of course this blog is only a tiny pinch of the work we need to do to fully recover from years of self-abuse through listening to the inner critic.
However, it’s a start and it’s a good start.
Recovery from long term anxiety and depression can feel overwhelming because it’s so hard to identify where to start. By getting a handle on these inner voices, we can bring down the negative effects of the internal war that corrodes our life. Then we can begin on the road to happiness.