Identifying Critical Self-Talk

From Stephanie Chisolm

Many of us live in a world where we define being productive as doing it all. For some, this productivity is tied to our self-worth. When we feel like we are not living up to our definition of what productive is, that inner critic can become loud. When your inner critic becomes loud, it can leave you feeling defeated. The list of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ becomes all consuming, and you find yourself having little self-compassion.

In order to work with critical-self talk, the first step is to notice when you are being self-critical. Dr. Kristin Neff1 suggests that individuals identify specific words/phrases that they use in critical self-talk, whether there are any patterns and whether there are any situations that may make critical self-talk more active. The overall goal of starting to notice self-talk is to understand and be aware of how we talk to ourselves.

In order to identify critical self-talk, I often suggest that a client personify their pattern of negative thoughts by naming it – whether the client chooses “Mr. Perfectionist”, “Debbie Downer”, or even the “critic” is entirely up to them. In doing so, clients can start to externalize their critical-self talk.

That said, sometimes our “critic” believes that it is looking out for our best interest – this intent is often misguided. Once a client is aware of their “critic”, I often suggest that a client soften their critical self-talk. This may involve thanking “Debbie Downer” for the concern but kindly asking that she take a seat or step back. In asking your critical self-talk to step aside, clients integrate self-compassion into their daily routines which ultimately allows the more nurturing aspect of themselves to be present.

In my sessions with clients, I emphasize finding balance and having clients become connected to what makes them feel good, loosening the grip on the “shoulds” and “musts”. As a practicum student at LifeRoots, I am currently accepting new clients and would be honoured to support you in finding your balance.

1 Neff, K. Exercise 5: Changing your critical self-talk.

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