Internalizing a Kinder Voice
By Alternative Relief in Mental Health
Over my time meeting clients in treatment centersmeditation groups, and schools, I have noticed that many have become accustomed to the unkind voice in their mind. Sometimes this internal voice is not just unkind but truly mean, harsh, and critical. I think many of us, myself included, have experienced this kind of negative self-talk. However, just because we are used to it does not mean that it needs to be there.
I remember one client a met with some years ago who was a fifteen year old girl. When she was describing herself to me she told me that she was mean and rude, hard to handle, a handful, and sometimes a horrible person. This was how she boiled down who she was for someone she was just meeting. But, as I listened to her talk I started to wonder whose words these really were. Did she really think of herself like this, or were these someone else’s labels that she had internalized?
This is not an uncommon process. Some people hear negative things from their parents or siblings their whole lives and then grow to believe these things they say. Others get this negative self-talk from media or what I have sometimes called “the inadequacy society”. It is the general and pervasive message from society that we are not enough, we do not have enough, and we never will.
Many people take this message from the inadequacy society and internalize it until it becomes their own negative self-talk. I can think of another client I met with for about six months who was struggling with an eating disorder. She told me she would sometimes go on instagram and look at pictures and videos of women who were incredibly fit. She spent hours each day looking at this content. She told me that it only ever made her feel worse about her body.
This client said after she spent too much time on instagram she would start to hear herself saying things like “you’re so chubby” when she passed a mirror. After struggling with this negative internal voice for a while she decided to stop looking at instagram. When she did, she noticed that she was able to say kinder things to herself. She also noticed that the negative self-talk happened less often.
So if this negative self-talk is so pervasive, how do we combat it? In my clinical experience, I have found there are a few thing that are helpful. The first step toward internalizing a kinder voice is to notice that negative voice as it arises.
Much like my client was able to do by noticing her thought that she was chubby, you can notice when your mind tells you something unkind. It will probably take some practice and time in order to become aware of this voice because it is so entrenched. We very rarely bring attention to or question our own thoughts.
The next step is to meet this negativity with some kindness and compassion. You can try picking one phrase to say to yourself when you notice mean self-talk coming up. I suggest writing your own that is relatively short. For example, you might try saying to yourself, “I am enough”, “I love myself”, or “I care about my pain”. Really make a dedicated practice out of this. When you notice negative-self talk try to say one of these kinder things to yourself.
Another way to internalize a kinder voice is to practice self-care. Often acting toward yourself in a caring way will allow you to then think about yourself in a more caring way. You might insert some small self-care activities throughout your day like short periods of time for meditation, taking a bath, cooking yourself a good meal, or just taking regular breaks. When you start being kind to yourself, you will often start to speak to yourself with kindness.
If you are interested in internalizing a kinder voice it sometimes is a matter of cutting out contact with the negative external voices. Earlier I talked about how we internalize the negative voice of parents or society. Sometimes what we need in order to be more kind, is to have less contact with those negative voices. This might mean taking a page from my client’s book and looking at social media less. It might also mean limiting the amount of time we spend with negative people.
The important thing to remember is that even when it is hard you are still capable of changing that negative voice. With a little effort and time you really can internalize a kinder voice. I will end with a short story of hope. Another client of mine told me she was having trouble with this negative voice especially when she was at work. We worked on strategies together and talked about how she could change it. She decided to go to the bathroom regularly and say to herself “you are awesome as you are”. My client was diligent and did this every work day for a few months. When she came to me in one of our last sessions she told me that now as a reflex, without thinking, she found herself thinking “you are awesome as you are” throughout her day.