Negative thinking and 'that' inner critic
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Justin Lee Slaughter. MBACP (Reg)
13th July, 20160 Comments
As we have grown up, we have all developed an inner world. In that world it is you who is central, although we may lose this sense of centrality along the way. In that world, you are in a constant dialogue with yourself and indeed with others too. There is often a drama going on in one's mind and body. You may find yourself saying things like "it will never work, did I do that right?" or "does he or she really like me?".
We have in us an 'inner critic', call it what you will. It is highly likely this is born out of our experience with ourselves and others and our emotional or cognitive responses to them. This inner critic can happily take charge and affect our lives, including our sense of who we are in any given moment and in life situations we are a part of.
This inner critic which may at times help us to be cautious in certain situations, can become detrimental to our daily living. Its influence is like having a voice in all corners and aspects of our lives; eating away at our self-esteem, self-image and our relational endeavours with others.
Counselling work provides an explorative opportunity which benefits our self-development, self-awareness and self-understanding. Journalling (keeping a diary) helps and over time you may come to recognise patterns to your negative thinking, triggers and the emotions that are a consequence of thinking this way.
Working creatively, it may help to write about these thoughts, your inner critic. It may help that you are invited to imagine your inner critic, to draw it. Does it have a particular shape or form? Is it big or small? Does it leave you feeling big or small? Does it have a name? What feelings does it leave you with? How strong on a scale of one to ten are these feelings? You may feel working with a sand tray can help too. What kind of dialogue do you have with this inner critic? What does it say? What would you say back to it? It may be useful to ask that you argue back at it. It's helpful to notice how you feel having given it what for...
"You're never good at anything."
"I know I am good at..."
This approach can help dispel its voice. With all of the above in mind, it may be worthwhile thinking about the types of negative thinking you have acquired as there are different categories. Naming these can be a useful part in you taking steps to taking charge of your own voice:
Catastrophisation: "Because of that failure then I am definitely going to fail now."
Minimisation: "Everybody does that."
Expectations: "It won't work because..."
Self-blame: "It's me, I'm just not good at it."
Another useful tenet of counselling work is that counselling provides a safe and supportive environment in which you are able to explore what you may feel are some of the roots of your negative thinking. It is said negative thinking is often a learned habit. Being criticised and shamed as a child has an impact. Can you remember when it started or indeed a time when you felt most criticised and under valued? What was that like? How does it inform you now? How have you introjected certain beliefs and attitudes towards yourself? What experiences have helped increase this?
Counselling provides us with an opportunity to explore in a safe and supportive environment our experiences of negative thinking. It can help in validating our thoughts and feelings. It can help in our recognition, personal development, self-understanding and self-awareness. It is an explorative opportunity to uncover the roots of negative habits and thoughts. Being heard can be extremely beneficial.
Working creatively with negative thinking through the mediums of journalling, art and dialoguing are all opportunities which help us to find our own authority and voice. An approach that looks at the triggers and feelings behind such thoughts is useful. Providing a preparative opportunity with yourself and learning to be empathic and compassionate with you all go some way in moving forward and taking charge of your thoughts and sense of self, whilst building upon your self-esteem.
About the author
I have a background in counselling and psychotherapy, social science and in healthcare with a broad range of experience in both adult and adolescent mental health. I manage a small private practice, I currently volunteer as part of a counselling team at THT Brighton and Hove, as well as working in community mental health support services.
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