Having an inner voice (or sometimes called “internal dialogue”) that guides us through our day isn’t something we all experience. For those who do, it develops from early childhood years, this ‘voice’ helping to complete everyday tasks, such as your job. Research in 2018’s ‘The Varieties of Inner Speech’ showed people’s inner voices range from telling them not to do something, talk them through something or calm them down.
Examples of internal dialogue or inner voice can be:
- Verbally talking to yourself: usually when something is on your mind, or you begin creating lists.
- You play out what you’re going to say: maybe when needing to have a difficult conversation, solve a problem or
- Planning what you will do: if you’re about to hold a meeting, you may prepare yourself by going over what you want to address.
- When you’re reading a book, you may ‘hear’ the words in your head, or when listening to a song, you may ‘hear’ yourself singing to them in time with the music.
While these are healthy and ordinary aspects of having an ‘inner voice,’ there is another side to having an inner voice. With this voice guiding us through the day, sometimes because of environmental and emotional pressures, this once-trusting voice can become our own worst enemy, with what it’s saying to us not always being true.
The same research from 2018 also shows that many people critically talk to themselves, with a proportion even telling themselves ‘that was good’ or ‘that was stupid.
Those who are stressed, suffering from a mental health disorder, or feel overwhelmed may find that this formerly pleasant voice has become hypercritical. In the paper The Internal Monologue, the author Jesse Butler discusses how this critical voice can misguide and deceive us, filling us with self-doubt and even adding to our feelings of worry.
We may even notice we begin convincing ourselves that “maybe I’m overreacting” when we are upset or annoyed with something. We can also go back to reaffirm something we were told as children, such as, “you’re too emotional” when we are struggling with our feelings.
If you find yourself more negative, people pointing out you’re more negative or even stressed, or you’re putting yourself down more, and it is time to break down why our inner voice has taken on this narrative. The inner voice’s power stems from the things we say to ourselves as if we are feeding it the nutrients to keep growing. If we continue to provide this voice with negative, self-deprecating, and untrue statements, it will continue to feed those back to us in times of discomfort, stress, or anxiety.
As women, we allow this to happen more than our male counterparts do. We tell ourselves we have to be strong, hide our emotions, and swallow our annoyances or disagreements out of fear of being seen as problematic.
Understanding that we do this and how the power is given to our inner voices also allows us to destabilize them. To take control of that voice, breaking down what it tells us, by permitting ourselves to process and feel, as well as show ourselves kindness.
There are a few ways you can begin doing this:
Talk To Yourself As If You Were A Friend
Try and correct yourself, changing the ‘I’ statements to ‘you,’ as if you are talking to another person and not yourself. Talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone you cared about. This simple act reaffirms that we love and respect ourselves, dismantling the voice and what it stands on.
PsychologyToday explores how people use this format within talk therapy to express all critical thoughts as they hear or experience them. Still, having them use ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ leads them to understand where the self-attacking system stems from.
Reaffirm With Power Statements
Keep a handful of handy and go-to statements that you can tell yourself when you’re feeling negative or find your inner critic is rampant. Things such as, ‘I am worthy’ or ‘I can do this because I have accomplished X in the past’ and even ‘I am loved.’
Write In A Diary
Countless articles show the power of journaling and writing diary entries, and it’s also useful in situations such as this. In a PsychologyToday article by David Braucher, he discusses how journaling our feelings can help us accept our emotions and balance our self-esteem. Those who struggle to confront a feeling head-on will find by writing it down, you can see the words challenging to ignore and realize negative those words are. It’s crucial to unpack any emotions to provide the space to process and feel.
Unpick Your Self-Talk
It can be hard to stop a thought directly in its tracks. So instead, acknowledge the negative thought and not fight it, and choose instead to unpick it. Doing this will help you gain better insight into why you feel and think the way you are. For example:
Thought: ‘You’re going to fail if you try.’ Unpicking it: Why do I think I’ll fail when I’ve successfully done x, y, and z. This is a simple explanation, but by acknowledging and then breaking down the thought, you’re not only reinforcing your successes and capabilities but challenging the root of the idea.
Doing any of the things above can help highlight any patterns. We may even recognize a statement we tell ourselves that was heard as a child, forcing us to change how this voice limits our actions and behavior.
Regardless of what this inner voice tells us, your feelings, emotions, and thoughts are essential. We need to give ourselves space and time, allowing our inner voice to communicate with us as if it’s a friend and not a foe.
Most importantly, be kind to you and compassionate with how you feel because we are all just doing our best, including you.
Butler J. (2013) The Internal Monologue. In: Rethinking Introspection. New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137280381_8
Psychology Today – Steps to Overcoming Your Critical Inner Voice
Psychology Today – Four Ways To Improve Self-Esteem
The varieties of inner speech questionnaire – Revised (VISQ-R): Replicating and refining links between inner speech and psychopathology by Ben Alderson-Day, Kaja Mitrenga, Sam Wilkinson, Simon McCarthy-Jones, and Charles Fernyhough – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204885/.