I believe that we all have an internal chatterbox or dialogue. For some, this internal dialogue can be more extreme and intense, making it more difficult to manage and contain. This can often have a profound and debilitating affect on people.
Over the years I’ve worked with many individuals who struggle with their internal critic or chatterbox, affecting their self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. I’ve often been asked by clients’ if their internal critic will ever go away. I don’t believe our “chatterbox” or internal critic will ever go away completely, because it’s part of who we are. For me as an individual and also in my work with people, it’s more about how we manage and contain our critical voice. IT IS POSSIBLE TO MANAGE AND CONTAIN OUR CRITICAL VOICE!!
Where does our critical voice come from?
As a transactional analysis practitioner, I believe that we have a Parent part to us, as well as an Adult and Child part. The Parent part or Parent Ego State refers to the introjects or messages we receive from our parental figures – this can be our biological parents, caregivers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers etc. It can also include cultural messages from institutions such as the Church. Our Parent Ego State comprises of two parts – our Nurturing Parent and our Critical Parent. Our Nurturing Parent is the part which offers us positive messages, enabling us to self-support, self-soothe – in affect nurture ourselves. Our Critical Parent derives from critical messages we received as children; how we then internalise and make sense of those messages. Very often as adults, when we find ourselves under stress, our Critical Parent can kick off, replaying messages that we received and internalised as children. I have a very strong Critical Parent, which I’ve learnt to contain and manage. An example of a parental message I received from a teacher when I was in infant school was that I was stupid. This had a profound affect on me as a child and teenager. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties and decided to go back to studying, that I began to appreciate just how intelligent I am. At times when I’m feeling stressed or a bit down, this message can still be replayed, but I now have the resources to deal with it and “turn down the volume” in my head.
What critical messages did you receive as a child? How did they affect you then and how do they affect you now?
How do I manage the critical voice in my head?
As previously mentioned, I don’t believe it’s possible to ever rid ourselves of the critical voice in our heads, simply because it’s a part of us. I do believe however, that it is possible to manage and contain that voice. I can say that very confidently through my own personal experience and also in my work as a therapist. I’ve found a number of different techniques helpful over the years in enabling me to manage my own internal critic – many of these techniques I’ve been able to pass on and utilise in my work with clients’. I often encourage clients’ to challenge the critical voice in their head – talk back to it. So when that voice kicks off telling you whatever critical messages about yourself, challenge it!! It’s about learning to stand up to the bully in your head. I invite you to do this with conviction, rather than responding to it passively, for this simply puts you at a disadvantage and in the Victim position. Put some “welly” into it!! A word of caution, however … you might find that the voice in your head becomes more amplified as you begin to challenge it. This is completely normal!! The “bully” in your head will not like it when you begin to challenge and stand up to it – it wants you to remain loyal to it – to keep you in that one down position. It wants you to feel bad about yourself and continue feeding you negative messages about yourself. Persevere however – it does get better!! As you begin to challenge your internal bully, it will begin to lose its power over you, making it more manageable.
Another way of challenging the bully in your head is to think of a court room situation. Imagine the defence team and the prosecution. The critical voice in your head is the prosecution. You are the defence. Imagine yourself challenging the prosecution. What evidence is there to support what the prosecution is saying? Is there any? What evidence is there to refute the prosecutions case? What is a more balanced way of looking at the situation? In the case of myself and the example I gave, I was basing my belief about me being stupid on a flippant comment a teacher made about me when I was 7 years of age. This comment had such a profound affect on me as a child, yet I have so much evidence to contradict her claim, but also my Critical Parent. Try this for yourself – it can be a really useful exercise in learning how to manage the critical part of your process.
Another tool I invite clients’ to use is visualisation. When my critical voice kicks off, I often imagine a television screen and flicking channels or turning down the volume. Try it for yourself – when your critical voice kicks off, imagine flicking channels or lowering the volume. This takes practice and perseverance, however, so stick with it. It does get easier in time.
Another suggestion is to think about distractions – go out for a walk, go to the gym, listen to some music. Think about doing something nice for yourself – nurture yourself. Think of a child who is upset or distressed – they’re giving themselves a hard time. What would you say to that child? Would you berate them or would you comfort them? I’d imagine you’d comfort the child and offer reassurance. I invite you to see that little child within yourself. When your Critical Parent kicks off imagine that little distressed child. How will you parent, soothe and care for your inner child?
Just remember, it is possible to manage and contain your internal critic! I hope you find my comments helpful.