Psychologist Briony Leo explains how to finally let go of your inner critic and give yourself a little compassion.
Our inner voice is our worst enemy. It’s the one that shames us for eating too many slices of pizza, making the slightest mistake at work, and forces us to replay a mishap from eight years ago at 2am. Like, what even?
But even though it’s incredibly easy to critique yourself, it’s important to understand you can use this same inner voice to build yourself up.
And here’s exactly how to do just that, according to psychologist Briony Leo.
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3 psychologist-approved ways to cancel negative self talk, stat
1. Identify your inner critic
A lot of the time we will have an inner critic who can say pretty horrible things to us when we’re stressed or have made a mistake.
For many people, their inner critic is a combination of negative people from their past, which has been internalised and now comes out at difficult times. We can think that our inner critic just wants the best for us (and by listening to it, we’re going to do better next time), but really our inner critic does way more harm than good.
A good way to manage them is to be aware of situations that you’re likely to engage in negative self-talk, and be aware of what you’re saying to yourself. Often our inner critic will be unimaginative and mean – like a school bully – and it can be reasonably straightforward to challenge what they say.
A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t say something to a friend or loved one, why would you say it to yourself? Another useful strategy is to offer alternatives to negative self-talk. For example, “you’ve, done it again – you always make this mistake” might become “unfortunately, this has happened again, but maybe I can learn from this experience and move forwards”.
2. Learn self-compassion
A great tool for managing our inner critic is self-compassion, which really means applying the love and kindness that we offer others, towards ourselves.
Again, it’s about being able to accept our own limitations and mistakes in a compassionate and reasonable way (like you might a friend, or a small child) and resisting the urge to punish ourselves for failing to be perfect.
Practices like meditation, yoga and mindfulness are useful for self-compassion, as often they can involve reflecting on our inner world and understanding ourselves more deeply.
3. Focus on growth mindset
This is a great resource for being kinder to ourselves. According to growth mindset, each setback or challenge isn’t necessarily a big disaster that proves we’re useless – rather, it is the opportunity to learn and grow.
This is a really interesting perspective that holds up to scrutiny. After all, as bad as losing a job or going through a bad breakup are, often we do emerge with a new understanding and new strength.
Growth mindset and resilience go hand in hand, and the whole idea is to shift away from blaming ourselves and focusing on what has happened, towards using our setbacks as learning experiences that show us what to do differently next time. Negative self-talk is often hard to keep up when we have a growth mindset since we are less likely to focus on our own failings, and more likely to focus on what we can learn from the situation.
More than anything, keeping a sense of self-awareness about how you speak to yourself will help with negative self-talk. The more aware we are of this inner dialogue, the more we can practice things like self-compassion and growth mindset. Over time, our inner dialogue will change into something more supportive and compassionate.
Briony Leo is a Melbourne psychologist who works with couples, individuals and addictions. She is interested in helping people have good relationships and improve their wellbeing through better understanding of psychology, as well as ongoing behavioural changes.