In a recent blog post I referred to my Critical Inner Voice. It wasn’t until recently that I realized not everyone has a highly critical inner voice. In a book I’m reading, the main character’s inner voice is a voice of reason. I was astounded. [I’ve also read recently that some people do not have any inner voice! Wow.]
Some recent course work (another psychology class via Coursera – this one on Resilience – link here) talked about different types of inner voices and more importantly tools for quieting the inner voice (I love new tools!). The course talked about inner voices as being “Thinking Traps”. It’s important to understand our thinking because how we think drives our emotion, our physiology (body’s stress response), and our behavior. Thinking Traps can lead to non-action versus purposeful action to resolve situations, or they can result in negative emotional spirals.
A Critical Inner Voice is a well-integrated pattern of thinking that is not a trustworthy guide as it is often based on self-limiting beliefs. It is often “heard” in the second person, telling you your worst fears are truths, “you are a failure, you are stupid so just shut up, you will never amount to anything so why try that, you’ll never be good enough, you’re useless, you’re being selfish, you are not worthy”. The voice can also be in your subconscious and only felt in whatever negative emotional swirl it results in – irritability, sadness, shame, bad mood, anger, resentment, fear, or procrastination.
Some of the most common Thinking Traps of your Inner Voice:
- Mind-reading – Assuming we know what someone else is thinking or expecting them to know what we are thinking.
- It’s all about me – Believing you are sole cause of setback/problem; self-blame. This area can also be a Critical Inner Voice of self-doubt telling you, “of course this is bad – you are not smart, you are not capable, you are not enough, etc.”
- They are the problem – Believing someone or something else is sole cause of setback/problem; the victim mentality
- Catastrophizing – Ruminating about irrational worse case scenarios. This can include overestimating the negative and underestimating own coping skills, spiraling downward with what ifs, or getting stuck on the negative outcome. Catastrophizing blocks purposeful action to improve situation/raises anxiety (physiological body response). In this area, it’s important to understand your triggers – ambiguity/uncertainty, something of value at stake (ex. someone you love not home when expected to be), something you fear (ex. a deeply held untruth), or simply being tired/rundown!
Another thinking pattern/trap I’m particularly prone to is “Hearing” Expectations/Criticism in other’s comments. Yes, as I’ve commented before – I hear “voices” that are not there! My Critical Inner Voice interprets what is said (or written in blog comments!) as standards of behavior (for family, friendship, community, and culture) that I should be doing to fit in, to not be rejected or abandoned. And of course, since I am not doing those behaviors, the failure to achieve expectation then spirals me into negative emotional space (“you are not worthy of belonging”). This Critical Inner Voice is perhaps unique to my Enneagram type.
What are your most common default thinking traps? I was in a conversation recently with someone who was so (irrationally) worried about not making an appointment (catastrophizing all the possible issues) that she had a physical (negative) body response (“my hands were shaking so bad”). For me, beside the I Hear Voices of Expectation, I’m a huge Mind-reader, a pretty strong Catastrophizer, and unfortunately, I do often think it’s All About Me.
What was so great about this course was the presentation of Strategies (Skills) to Quiet the Inner Voice (including my Critical Inner Voice)!
- Evidence based rebuttal – What are the facts? “This is not true because….”
- Reframe the situation – Take a different perspective, look for a silver lining find meaning in the situation. “A better way to look at this is…”
- Reframe by building an Optimistic Thinking Pattern – Optimistic people believe good events are result of a permanent (internal pervasive stable) cause and negative events (failures/misfortune) are a result of temporary cause (external circumstantial specific).
- Contingency plan for catastrosphizing – “If X happens, I’ll do Y”.
- Also – Balancing for catastrosphizing by clarifying your worst-case scenario and then articulating the best-case scenario also!
- Clarify for mind-reading – simply ask, don’t assume. (“What exactly do you think/mean…..”)
Other ideas to take on (or minimize) the Critical Inner Voice are to focus on your signature strengths (do what you do well), to celebrate your wins (even the small ones), and to practice self-compassion (be a friend to yourself).
My Critical Inner Voice is full of self-doubting, nagging negative thoughts. It hears expectations everywhere and spirals into refining a plan again and again, to get everything “right”. By bringing these thoughts into the conscious level, I can begin to challenge them.
“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Louise Hay
As I continue to do the work on putting Positive Psychology into practice, I will be trying to be more aware of my Thinking Traps (Awareness is the fist step towards change) and using the strategies to quiet that inner voice.
What’s your most common Thinking Trap?