Our Inner Self-Critic: On How We Talk To Ourselves

Unhappiness usually begins with ourselves. Other people may trigger us to feel negative or down, but were largely responsible for our own selves. How we communicate with ourselves is often an indicator of personal happiness. Self talk, or the inner dialogue that we have with ourselves, is something that people are not always aware of as it’s happening. We’re usually pretty reactive to people and situations, and tend to forget what’s happening behind the scenes, or how we’re talking to ourselves. The reality is that so often, we are wrapped up in negative self talk and verbal abuse towards ourselves. Being caught up in this kind of self talk makes it really difficult to connect with ourselves in a healthy way, and, consequently, to relate to others in a kinder, friendlier fashion.

Upon his first experience of Western self-criticism, the Dalai Lama was puzzled. In Tibet, where he’s from, there was no concept of a self critic. When I read this, I was impressed. As Americans, we’re so embroiled in negative self talk and beating up on ourselves, it never occurred to me that other cultures might find this a curiosity.

When we get into negative self talk, it’s usually centered around the idea that “I’m just not good enough.” we may have grown up with these messages, from our families of origin, and have been reinforced through other institutions, like school, church, and sports. We internalized these messages so many times, and after enough repetition, began to believe. So, as adults, we identify strongly with that negative inner critic. The problem is, we’re much more than that.

When you find yourself speaking harshly to yourself, beating up on or generally feeling negative towards yourself, remember that there are ways to deal with this. Here’s some important ideas to remember:

  • The inner self critic is not truly who you are
  • It developed over continual messaging and reinforcement while growing up
  • We often strive to quiet the voice, usually with working harder to overcompensate
  • This negative self critic is often a symptom of how we feel inferior, or just not good enough, to ourselves or others.
  • There is most often times pain, fear or sadness underlying the experience of the negative self critic. Sometimes, it’s important to get in touch with the felt sense in our bodies, rather than continuing to intellectually feed the negative self critic with more negative thoughts.
  • Practicing kindness with your self is the best gift that you can get yourself. It will spill out onto how you treat others. rehearse validating yourself for doing good work, setting aside time to take care of yourself or have downtime, and generally start to improve the relationship with yourself first.
  • Remember that if you’re feeling critical overly critical or judgmental of others, you may be doing that to yourself first.
  • Building positive self-esteem and better confidence comes from learning to change the inner verbal dialogue with ourselves.

Dealing with our inner self critic is tricky. It’s easier sometimes to just say what’s wrong with other people, or put our problems on the world, but looking inward and seeing the inner mental chaos that often drives us, we see a different picture. Changing the nature of how we relate to and treat ourselves is the first step towards more happiness and personal freedom.


About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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