Got an inner critic sharper than Streep’s insult-wielding Miranda Priestly? New research reveals self-compassion and virtual reality hold the key to putting her back in her box.
If you are one of those folk who automatically assume it’s your fault when things go wrong, or perhaps nod your head with a "sure, that’s what I expected" when the best laid of plans go pear shaped, then the force is no doubt strong in your inner critic.
Still not sure? Here’s another little self-diagnostic test: does one (or all) of the following phrases strike a chord? "I'm not where I should be for my age," "I'll never make decent money doing anything I like," or perhaps this personal favourite - "my biggest accomplishments were all flukes.”
If you’re nodding your head, you are one of the many women sharing head space with a hurtful inner critic.
The problem with renting mental space to a negative Nancy? A persistently nasty inner critic is closely linked with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety disorders, and can impact all areas of your life as it effectively erodes self-confidence in everything from basic problem solving to going for that big promotion.
So, how do you give your IC an eviction notice?
Self-compassion is key, acting as a buffer, helping to promote a positive mood and general wellbeing. We’re often unaware of how we are talking to ourselves, so learning to pay attention is a great first step. Once you start paying attention to your inner voice, you'll probably be surprised by how much of your thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated, or focused on the negatives of a situation, says Jono Nicholas, CEO at ReachOut.com.
Here are 7 practical steps you can use to turn your IC’s frown upside down:
1. Be mindful at stressful times
When you become aware you’re feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, take the opportunity to stop and reflect on your thoughts. If you notice that they’re negative, then test the accuracy of the thoughts by asking yourself some challenging questions.
2. Journal it
The process of writing down the negative thoughts running through your head can make you more aware of just how destructive your inner critic is being.
3. Test the reality of what your IC is saying
When your IC pipes up, test the reality of the statements by asking yourself "what is my evidence for and against my thinking?", "am I jumping to negative conclusions?" and "how can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?"
4. Look for alternative explanations
Rather than what your IC has to say, ask yourself “are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?", “what else could this mean?” and “if I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?”
5. Put it in perspective
While it can be hard to do in the moment, it’s important to stop and think “what is the best thing that could happen?” “is there anything good about this situation?” and “will this matter in five years’ time?”
6. Using goal-directed thinking
Try asking yourself questions that refocus your attention on a goal, for example: “is this way of thinking helping me to achieve my goals?” “what can I do that will help me solve the problem?” and “is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do it better next time?”
7. Make time to see a professional
If your IC is especially ingrained, making time to see a psychologist could be immensely helpful. A therapist can mirror kindness, acceptance, compassion and empathic love which can then be internalised to build a healthy sense of self and worth. They can also help you ‘catch’ and identify critical messages and show you how to rephrase them to be self-compassionate. “Reframing the way we think about and talk to ourselves can be very beneficial to self-esteem, and in turn, reduce anxiety and depression. It takes a bit of practice, but it’s worth the effort,” says Jono.