The following is adapted from my book, Your Real Life.
Negative self-talk is a common behavior that sabotages authentic living, and it is a behavior we have all struggled with.
The simplest explanation of the inner critic is the figurative “devil on your shoulder.” You can think of its counterpart, the “angel on your shoulder,” as your inner nurturer. That’s the voice in your mind responsible for keeping you focused on self-compassion and encouragement.
The inner critic is the opposite. You’re probably much more familiar with this voice; it’s the one that has something harsh to say about your every thought, feeling, and decision. I’m sure you can guess which one is naturally louder and stronger for most of us.
Quieting your inner critic is important because in addition to releasing the negativity it causes, you create space for yourself to do more listening and exploring within yourself. Negative self-talk muddles your values, so removing that noise from your inner world allows your values to ring clear and shine through.
Here are three negative effects your self-talk may have on you that is keeping you from living authentically and happily.
Don’t Believe the Inner Critic
Don’t get me wrong; the inner critic has its place.
That negative instinct in your mind is there to help you recognize when you’ve made a mistake and think about how you might remedy it. It’s an important part of learning and growth. It’s sometimes there to protect you. However, the negativity bias in your brain gives that shoulder devil a tendency to take its criticism overboard.
This is why most people speak more harshly about themselves than they would about someone else in the same situation (and conversely, speak more positively to praise someone else than they would about themselves in the same situation).
Self-criticism is the archenemy of self-compassion. You need to reduce the noise of the inner critic living in your subconscious mind; this will help you gain control and release the negativity that’s preventing your self-compassion and perpetuating habits and behaviors that aren’t serving you.
Often, the words your inner critic speaks don’t reflect the truth of your reality, especially in adverse situations. The negative thoughts that arise as your brain processes information between the left and right hemispheres rarely reflect the full story.
Feelings of Imposter Syndrome
To combat this negative bias, you first need to sharpen your awareness of it. See the critical thoughts for what they are: the words of an inner voice that typically does not speak the truth.
You have to be aware of this because the list of things your inner critic can pick at is infinite.
Because your inner critic comments on so many things every day, it’s easy to get swept up in those words and take the criticisms as truth. But I cannot stress enough how detrimental it can be to do so. Taking that voice’s words at face value can lead to crippling mental, emotional, and psychological patterns, for example, imposter syndrome. Feeling like a fraud in any aspect of your life gives you even more to work through on your journey to release negativity and build authentic resilience.
This form of self-sabotage is a strong belief that you don’t deserve the success you have achieved and is accompanied by feelings of fraudulence about that success and dread that you will be found out. It is estimated 70 percent of people will experience this imposter syndrome at least once.
There are many resources available to combat this inner-saboteur technique, but the best ones are to reframe negative thoughts to something positive and drop the story behind them. Recognizing that not every thought is true and not engaging in the false ones will help you release the imposter. No amount of success makes us immune to imposter syndrome caused by our inner critic.
Dependency of Process Addiction
Yet another common result of excessive negative self-talk is process addiction, which is a behavioral dependency. Behavioral dependency happens when people regulate their moods through compulsive behavior, despite knowing the negative impact that behavior may have on their life. Some common examples of process addiction are dependencies on shopping, gambling, excessive exercise, social media, or excessive sex.
Negative self-talk can lead to process addiction because this dependency often evolves from feelings of shame. Getting a hit of those hormones in your brain by acting on a certain behavior can become addictive because it gives you a (false) sense of combating the negativity going on in your mind and body.
The problem is that the hormone release triggered by acting on the dependency is temporary. Engaging in that behavior only further feeds the inner critic making you feel so bad—either indirectly, by providing ineffective, short-term solutions, or directly, by causing you to feel shame from having indulged in that negative behavior. It will never silence the inner critic in the long run.
Flip the Script
Think about how you would talk to a new friend in various situations. If they made a mistake, the behaviors and words you use in response would be kind, right? You probably wouldn’t use negative harsh words or beat them up over a simple mistake. You have to treat yourself with the same care you would give to that new friend.
Showing self-compassion is a mindful choice to embrace yourself with kindness in moments that might otherwise be painful. It’s important to remember that imperfection is part of the shared human experience, so you shouldn’t treat yourself (or anyone else) poorly for being human. If you can honestly say you treat yourself the same way you treat others, then you’re on the right path of building love for yourself.
Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean you have to shower yourself with compliments or positive affirmations like the comedy-sketch character Stuart Smalley did on Saturday Night Live (though you absolutely can and should if you want to). If you’re not into that, try focusing instead on flipping the negative self-talk. Actively stop yourself from any name-calling, harsh criticism, or otherwise negative thoughts directed at yourself and instead say something you would say to a friend (e.g., “It’s just a mistake. You’re not stupid. Things are going to be okay.”).
The more often you flip negative self-talk into positive or understanding self-talk, the more you train your brain to be kind to yourself. It takes practice, but after a while you will strengthen that inner nurturer and be able to hear its voice more clearly than ever.
For more advice on speaking positively to yourself, you can find Your Real Life coming soon on Amazon.