Name Your Negative Voice: Dealing with Your Inner Critic #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter N post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today I want to talk about dealing with negative thoughts coming from your inner critic.

You know what? Just because you think something, doesn’t make it true. Your thoughts and feelings are not fact. See my post on cognitive distortions for some examples of how our thoughts can deceive us.

One way of dealing with negative thoughts, is to engage them in a challenging conversation. It may help, in this case, to name your inner critic. Literally give it a name. Then look at it like you would to a really annoying person you meet, who however has little to no authority over you. It may then be easier to ignore or shut up your inner critic.

For example, let’s assume you call your inner critic Donald. (That’s what Anna Borges suggests and I do wonder whether she bases it on some orange-faced creature currently leading the world’s most powerful nation.) If your inner critic were to say you shouldn’t do something because you presumably can’t, you can then call him out on his bullshit, like this.

Inner critic: You’ll not get the job you want, so don’t bother to apply.
You: Shut up, Donald. You don’t know shit.

In this conversation, you’re purposefully keeping your comebacks to Donald brief. After all, you know he’s ignorant and insensitive and yet he doesn’t have the authority over you that requires you actually listen to him.

Another approach to your inner critic, particularly if it originates in childhood trauma, is to see your inner critic as a punitive parent. Then you can create a nurturing parent in your mind to help you challenge the punitive parent. After all, you most likely do generally feel you need to obey your parents more than you need an annoying acquaintance, even though really as an adult you have no such obligation.

Remember, naming your inner critic still requires you realize it’s part of you. Don’t go about blaming others for your own negative thoughts. Even when your inner critic is a reflection of your parents, it’s still your responsibility to deal with it.

As a side note, having a name for your inner critic can, in my experience, also help you see its function. For example, one of my more critical alters emerged as a named inner critic I thought should just shut up. Later on though, I realized she had a function beyond just being an inner critic or punitive parent. For this reason, I do feel engaging your inner critic can really be more than just telling it to shut up.

Cognitive Distortions: Change Your Thought Patterns to Feel Better #AtoZChallenge

I have been debating whether to continue the self-care theme for A to Z or not. I mean, I want to, but right now I’m not really motivated. I have a post in my drafts folder talking about coffee instead. Then I realized that, since I am struggling quite a bit today, I could really benefit from some self-care. For my letter C post, I am focusing on cognitive distortions. These are those dysfunctional thought patterns that often stand in the way of us feeling better.

While cognitive distortions are dysfunctional and often incorrect, they do make sense to our minds. Everyone employs cognitive distortions at times. Some thought patterns that aren’t reality-based, may even be helpful. For example, most drivers think they are less likely to end up in a car crash than other drivers, even though statistically only 50% of drivers can be less likely than others to end up in a car crash. This is called unrealistic optimism.

Many cognitive distortions though can be unhelpful. Examples of such cognitive distortions include:

  • Filtering: seeing the world through blue-tinted glasses. In other words, seeing the negative aspects of a situation only and overlooking the positive.
  • Polarized or black-and-white thinking.
  • Over-generalizing: drawing general conclusions based on limited experience.
  • Jumping to conclusions: thinking that you can read other people’s minds or predict the future.
  • Catastrophizing: always expecting the worst possible outcome.
  • Personalization: taking things that are not even remotely related to you personally. This can mean you apply random occurrences as being specifically about you, often in a negative way.
  • Fallacy of control: thinking either that everything is in your control or that nothing is. In reality, life is a complex combination of choice and circumstance.
  • Fallacy of fairness: mistakenly believing that everything should be based on what’s fair. Well, life isn’t fair.
  • Blaming: holding other people responsible for your feelings rather than taking ownership of them yourself.
  • Emotional reasoning: seeing your feelings as facts.
  • Fallacy of change: believing someone else or a situation will change if you’re patient enough. Basing your happiness on someone else’s or a situation’s changing rather than taking actions to change your own thoughts or behavior.

Now that I think of it, I can identify at least a couple of these cognitive distortions as reasons behind my recent struggling. For example, yesterday I had symptoms that signaled a UTI, but I catastrophized that I had some serious illness. This was based on the thought that I’ve had for years that, once I’d find a place to live in where I feel safe, I’d die. This is jumping to conclusions. Then I thought that, by thinking I had a serious illness, I was making it real through some kind of twisted law of attraction that I don’t even generally believe in. This is an example of the fallacy of control. In the end, I felt miserable and all because of some cognitive distortions.

Do you often find yourself employing cognitive distortions?