It’s often said that the person you’re most critical of (most of the time, at least) is yourself. If you take a moment to stop and think about the way you talk to yourself on a daily basis, how kind are most of the comments you’re hearing? Self-talk is difficult to get a handle on because it’s done in the privacy of one’s own mind; a place where you don’t have a caring bestie waiting to call you out for saying nasty things about yourself.
If you’re someone who struggles to keep self-critical thoughts in check, allow us to help with some tips from Carly Dober, Psychologist and Headspace App’s Mental Health Expert.
We chatted with her over email to gain some insight into critical self-talk, why we do it and what kinds of phrases we can use to break the habit.
What are self-critical thoughts, and why do we have them?
Dober explained that “self-criticism is the tendency to engage in negative self-evaluation that results in feelings of worthlessness, failure, and guilt”.
Examples of this might be thoughts like. “I’m not good enough… I’m a loser… People are better than me… I’ll never amount to anything… I’m stupid”.
These thoughts we tell ourselves are cruel and painful, but, Dober shared, we turn to them “because the habit tends to motivate us to do something about the threat to our idea of ourselves”.
After all, our brains usually do have our best interests at heart… no matter how brutal they might be in the process.
Dober continued, explaining that while self-criticism may be a way for our brains to try and “keep us safe by motivating us with pain and discomfort,” the habit often does more damage, becoming “harmful and unhelpful”.
Phrases to use when self-critical thoughts come up
Now, understanding why we have these kinds of thoughts pop up is all well and good, but that doesn’t necessarily help when we’re experiencing a spiral of self-doubt.
When that happens, Dober recommends you “try a reframe” with phrases that will help you create space between your thoughts and reality.
“When you notice your thinking is becoming self-critical, ask yourself [the following]:”
- When have I experienced hardship before? How did I get through this?
- What would my loved ones say about me if I told them about this situation?
- Will this matter in 5 years’ time?
She also added that mindfulness practices can be incredibly useful here.
“This [mindfulness] will allow you to take a step back and critically analyse the content of your thoughts without immediately believing what your mind is telling you in the moment. If you need some help starting off, programs like the Headspace App have relevant meditations such as Reframing Negative Emotions, and a mindful activity called Taming Runaway Thoughts.”
What are some ways to encourage positive thoughts?
If you’re looking for ways to move away from negative self-talk and towards positive thoughts instead, Dober suggested giving self-compassion a try.
She explained, “Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Self-compassion is composed of three main elements; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Basically, talk to yourself with kindness and talk to yourself like you would a good friend.”
So, instead of telling yourself, “You can’t do that; you’re not good enough,” try telling yourself, “You can do this; just do your best and give it a go”.
It gets easier with time, trust us.
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