N Is For... Negative Self-TalkRead Now
That Nagging Voice Hasn't Always Lived In Your Head
Next time you feel beaten down, like you can't do anything right, listen to that berating voice inside your head - and ask yourself who it actually is.
No-one likes bullies. But the worst kind, the most insidious of them all, live inside our heads. And the reason they are so powerful is because we don't even realise they are there.
They are so deeply embedded in our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and knee-jerk reactions to situations, that we think they are us - and we think they're right.
These voices have lives of their own - and they began in the 'real world', before they leapt into our minds and started whispering in our ears.
The Critical Inner Voice
The Critical Inner Voice, as it is known, typically gets created as a defense mechanism to a painful situation.
It doesn't always require a direct criticism or scolding to develop (the growing pains of childhood inevitably spawn situations that leave us feeling inadequate) - but the negative feedback loop we get stuck in can inevitably be traced back to an individual or group of people whose words and/or actions impacted us deeply.
If we have ever been picked on, regularly criticized, felt the spotlight was on us for all the wrong reasons, the emotional charge of that event can get stuck.
And the way we were treated at the time, the kinds of judgments/expectations that were made of us and the lack of care that was given to us all get internalised.
We start talking to ourselves in the way we were spoken to that we hated so much.
And it becomes so natural to us, so automated, that we fail to realise we are even doing it.
And before long, we end up doing the original critics' jobs for them.
Recognising The Root
But breakthroughs can be as astoundingly simple as they are effective, as an interview Epiphany Channel did with architect, Greg Schriefer, shows.
Having been plagued by negative self-talk for years, what freed Schriefer was recognising where it actually came from.
When he realised that he was in fact repeating the exact words his father had said to him, he was immediately able to distance himself from the voice.
It no longer belonged to him, so he could begin a conversation with it, rather than just soak up whatever it was saying.
As Schriefer told Elise Ballard, who runs the Epiphany Channel:
"I had realized that I had been battling my father’s voice my entire life. It was him, not me, saying, “You are no good for nothing, and you’ll never amount to anything... My mind was just repeating it."
Once he realised where the voice came from, he was able to identify it every time it came up again after that - and stop it in its tracks.
When There Are Upsides To That Voice
Writer Isabel Allende outlined a similar experience she had in an interview with Global Leadership TV.
But in her case, she was also able to see how it actually benefited her.
The upside to being harsh on yourself is it can drive you to be better.
Allende was able to create a successful career for herself in a time where it was unusual for a woman to do so.
And it was the high expectations and intolerance of a grandfather cracking the whip (in real life and in her head) that she says she had to thank for it.
She told Global Leadership TV:
"It helped me for years and years to become someone freer, more successful and more independent than most women of my generation did in that place,"
Finding The Right Balance
The downside was, she could never switch off, feeling guilty if she ever stopped working.
Being able to give the voice - and herself - a break has been the key to achieving a bit more balance.
And now she uses this critical voice to her advantage as and when she needs it:
"Sometimes it's useful. Sometimes when I am in a situation of great stress or when I have to really perform, the voice comes and helps. But it doesn't tie me up, it doesn't imprison me like it did before."
The next time we get swept up by the voice inside our heads, the act of being able trace it back to its originator is well worth trying out.
Not only can it free us from the negative aspects of what it is saying - but it in some cases (depending on what it is saying) it might actually help us as well.