Is talking to yourself good for you?
How often do you talk to yourself? I guess that at least some of the time, it goes something like this:
- That was ridiculous!
- What are you doing?
- Why did you do that?
- What made you think that was a good idea? (When it’s gone wrong.)
- You are clumsy!
- Don’t you ever learn? (When you’ve made the same mistake again)
- Oh, you stupid idiot!
It’s like an inner critic on the sidelines ready to tell you where you’re going wrong. As if you didn’t already know! It’s as if we all have a super-noticing lookout watching over us, ready to bring it to our attention when we get things wrong, or making us rehearse things so that we don’t get things wrong in future.
Most of the time this is not a problem at all. When it works well it helps us to be careful and stay safe, avoid mistakes and get through the day smoothly. But you may be one of the people where this inner watchman starts taking over, never letting you relax and becoming so critical and loud that you start making mistakes because of it. A mountaineer told me that the one thing you should not say to someone in the middle of a climb is, ‘Be careful!’ If the talk is all about mistakes, you tend to make more of them.
Anxiety and self-criticism
Have you realised how anxiety and self-criticism go hand in hand? I notice that many of my clients who experience very high levels of anxiety are perfectionists, who worry when things feel out of their control.
Anxiety and self-analysis is a normal state of self-protective care, and we all have it. It helps us keep on track, not let things get out of hand. It helps us be realistic about what we can do and achieve. Hyper-anxiety and hyper-criticism are when self-analysis begins to take over your life, worrying you all the time and eating away at your peace and self-confidence.
Here’s an important point: emotion comes first, self-criticism second. An intense emotion like anxiety, worry, fear, or sadness comes first, and then something else gets triggered that tries to control that – often angrily, and it feels like criticism. The criticism makes the worry worse. It’s a vicious cycle:
- I get things wrong, I fail at something or feel inadequate.
- I worry I’ll be thought of less because of that, or told off, or not liked any more.
Then comes a critical bit that tries to stop all that:
- ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ ‘You’re so pathetic!’
- I feel ridiculous and pathetic.
- Either try really, really hard never to get anything wrong; or I give up altogether.
- Either way, I get things wrong – it’s so hard not to when I’m feeling ridiculous and pathetic.
If this sounds familiar, it might be a good time to get some help.
Support for hyper-anxiety and hyper-criticism
There are different ways of helping those hyper-alert anxious and sometimes over-critical parts of you: from identifying and re-framing negative thoughts into more affirming ones, to working to soothe the sense of stress your whole body is holding in the middle of all this.
One of the ways I find most radically helpful is for you to find a way of developing a different, more friendly inner conversation with yourself. Focusing inwardly on these different aspects of your protecting self and getting to understand them better can be a powerful way of releasing the tension. Both the part that feels anxious and the part that thinks it is protecting it by shouting warnings from the sidelines need some help to feel safer.
You can untangle what is happening inside you when you learn that yes, it is good to talk – and not just to someone else in the room but to yourself - when you can learn do it in a more friendly and compassionate way than you have ever been able to do before. You’ll be amazed at how much better it can make you feel.
And I will leave you with this one hugely important truth: there is nothing inside you that is not doing the best it can for you, however strange that may seem at times. Counselling will help you understand that; to accept the ways you have learned to cope with things, and to begin to help them shift and change for the better.
Don’t suffer on your own. If you’re struggling with anxiety and negative feelings, I’m happy to talk to you with no obligation if you’d like to find out more.
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