Can that inner voice in your mind sometimes be your own worst enemy? Do you ever subject yourself to a seemingly endless internal monologue, featuring your failures and insecurities? Can you go from happy and positive one moment, to down and despairing the next, having consulted nobody but yourself?
These negative thought processes within us are known in psychology circles as the ‘Critical Inner Voice’. This ‘voice’ represents the destructive and maladaptive behaviour that can systemically work against the fulfilment of our best selves. It is thought that our awareness of our conscious critical inner voice could merely reflect a subconscious network of self-destructive and demeaning internal attitudes (The Critical Inner Voice Explained). Therefore, it makes sense that in order to take control of that critical inner voice, we need to maximise our conscious awareness of it.
As humans this is a learned behaviour, and our negative inner voices can come from our previous experiences, repeating the vocalised harmful words of the people in our lives, or external influences in society. We all have this voice, and it is not beneficial to any of us. As vets this voice is likely all too familiar: ‘You don’t know enough’, ‘It’s your fault you didn’t get a diagnosis’, and ‘You never should have gone to vet school’. It can really kick us when we’re down, and add to our levels of stress and anxiety.
Hopefully if we can re-programme our brains to manage our critical inner voices, so that our instinct is to support ourselves in a kind manner. We can then experience higher levels of personal happiness, and less self-inflicted suffering. Here are some suggestions to get you started…
Give the nasty voice a name
Identify the thoughts and then imagine that it is another person saying them to you. Not only does this raise your awareness of the pervasive thoughts, but you can start to see that you would be very unlikely to tolerate this kind of hostile speech from someone else, so why do you ‘speak’ to yourself this way? See Voice Therapy for more.
It might make you feel a bit crazy to be talking to someone else in your head, but I personally find this helpful. I call mine ‘Nelly’ (Negative Nelly- I like alliteration!), and when I feel that my critical inner voice is starting to rant away, often for no particular reason, I try and catch the stream of thoughts and tell ‘Nelly’ something similar to, but more expletive than, ‘shut up’. By getting some distance in this way, I find that it is easier to process the thoughts and see if they are actually legitimate concerns, or just that critical inner voice giving me a hard time. If it’s the latter I can usually break the cycle and return to a more rational frame of mind.
Talk to yourself as you would a pet
This technique is one I first came across in a little book called ‘Calm’* by Dr Arlene Unger, and I feel it is particularly apt for veterinary professionals! By imagining yourself shadowed by a pet of your choice, you can see that if the pet was good, you would be kind and appreciative of it, and if the pet did something wrong, you would firmly tell it off, but still love it, and not keep verbally punishing it for the same thing. If you decide to address yourself how you would that pet, you can then train your inner voice to be nurturing.
Practise correcting your appraisal of strangers
Ever found yourself negatively assessing people you see out and about? I think if we’re honest, most of us do it. You might be people watching, and have thoughts like ‘She shouldn’t be wearing that dress’, or ‘That guy is punching above his weight with his partner’, for example. Why do we do this? If we can’t even be kind in thought to people we have no reason to judge, how can we hope to be kind to ourselves?
Next time you notice yourself doing this, stop, and try and re-frame the thought to a kind one. For instance, instead of ‘she shouldn’t be wearing that dress’, try ‘good for her to have the confidence to wear that dress’. See 10 Reasons to Stop Judging People for more reasons to curb this behaviour. The more you can re-programme your mind to be kind as a default to others, the more it will naturally start to be kinder to yourself too!
Increase your levels of gratitude
Being consciously grateful has been shown to not only give you little boosts of joy, but also promote higher levels of long-term happiness. Stop allowing that internal negative playlist to play on repeat, and switch instead to thinking about the people and things in your life you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be something big and meaningful, it can be something as small as enjoying your hot shower that evening, or being thankful a friend took the time to message you.
Some people find keeping a ‘gratitude journal’, where you note a few things each day that you are appreciative of, can be helpful.
Vets and Nurses: Check out The A to Z of Veterinary Gratitude if you’d like some ideas.
Have a break from the voice
Take some time away from your thoughts! Go for a walk in the fresh air, stick on a film you love, get lost in a good book, or… do yoga! (C’mon, you’d be disappointed if I didn’t mention it, right?!). You’re more likely to be kind to yourself if you’re not worn down by endless inner talk.
One of the things I love most about yoga and meditation is the space to clear my head and lose myself in breath and movement. No matter how I’m feeling, I know that when I get on my mat I am going to get a break from my internal chatter, and finish feeling better than when I started. Head over to the Postures and Meditations/Pranayama pages if you need some inspiration!
*VetYogi has not received anything in exchange for mentioning this book, I just like it!