Self-talk is sort of like the narrator of our lives. It helps us form a cohesive understanding of the world, ourselves, or our place in the world. So what happens when the voice is, shall we say less than kind? The answer: it depends. In my experience, I’ve come across two main types of unkind inner voices: the “unkind to self” voice, and the “unkind to others” voice.
The Unkind to Self Self-Talk
This is what happens when the voice in your head tells you that you aren’t good/smart/attractive/whatever enough to be successful. It is the voice of self blame, depression, anxiety, and self-destruction. This is the voice that tells you that you are less than others. When you compare yourself to others and believe that you come up short, it’s because of this voice.
The Unkind to Others Self-Talk
This is what happens when you see other people doing something and declare whatever it is to be a waste of time. As a Millenial (granted, I’m on the older side of the generation, but still), I don’t have to go far to find articles insulting whole swaths of people for daring to appreciate the power and availability of technology. There are also more sinister versions of this voice, as this is the font of the -isms as well. This is the voice of the eye-roll; the one that says that others are not good/smart/attractive enough for you.
Make Nice With Your Inner Voice
Your inner monologue is powerful. By thinking about the reason you believe a certain thing, or even challenging that belief somehow, you can adjust the perspective of your inner voice to one that is kind, rather than unkind. So let’s talk about ways to reconcile your self-talk to your values.
Remember that everyone is different
This sounds a bit hokey, but I go there a lot, so I guess it’s okay. Often we have conflicts with our inner voice when we hold ourselves to the standard of others, or hold others to our standards. As the old saying goes, “If you judge a fish’s intelligence by it’s ability to climb a tree it will spend it’s whole life believing that it’s stupid.” Do your best to refrain from comparing yourself to others by instead focusing on celebrating the differences. Spend some time engaging with someone different than you on their terms, rather than expecting them to meet you where you are.
Remember that everyone is entitled to their own feelings (Even you)
Albert Ellis coined the term “Should-ing on yourself” when he noticed that people tend to trap themselves by saying what they should or should not do. Generally, people “should” on themselves as a way to express self-judgement: If you “should have done” thing A, then you are given license to chastise yourself for doing thing B. I see this a lot in people who belittle themselves for doing/thinking/feeling certain things that they deem inappropriate somehow. So if no one has told you: You are allowed to feel however you feel. This is important because the Unkind to Self voice wants to blame you for feeling whatever it is you’re feeling. Remember that no one, not even your inner voice, can take that away from you!
Remember that you are responsible for what you do and say.
So you are allowed to feel whatever you are feeling. Feeling annoyed because your baby has been crying all day? That’s okay, you’re allowed to. Feeling angry because the car in front of you has been driving slowly in the fast lane? Feel angry. Just remember that what you do with those feelings is just as important as the feelings themselves. Feel whatever it is that you feel, and take those feelings into consideration; but don’t allow the feelings to have the final say. This is something that both the Unkind to Self and the Unkind to Others voice will use. The Self-defeating voice will tell you to take on the weight of the world because no one wants to know what you’re going through; while the Other-defeating voice will want to lash out at other people for deigning to interfere with your grand schemes. Both of those voices are just being jerks, so it’s okay to put them in their place!
Ultimately: Be Kind
The short version of this post can be summed up by Ian Maclaren’s famous (and often misattributed) quote:
So there you have it. Be kind to yourself, and be kind to others; and your self-talk will follow suit!
Let me know in the comments what you think about self-talk! What are your experiences with having the voices in your head being unkind to yourself or to others?