Here’s how to stop listening to our not-so-silent mean girl.
Picture this: you’re listening to your best friend describe the worst day at work. She made a small, stupid mistake and got screamed at by her boss. As she blows into a tissue, you pat her leg and say “I’m pretty sure you deserved it, though. You’re just not that good at your job. In fact, you’re kind of an epic fraud and it can’t be long before everyone realises that. Oh, and I think you’ve gained weight. Which, come to think of it, is probably why you’ll never ﬁnd love. More wine?” It’s safe to say that if you ever spoke to a friend this way, she’d never speak to you again, because who wants to listen to that toxic speech?
The funny thing is, most of us are tuned into that inner-voice every waking minute of the day. But instead of coming from an easily ditchable frenemy, it can come from within. Our own inner-mean girl, the one sitting on the mental sidelines constantly questioning, condemning and calling out as well as stone-cold criticising our every move.
In her book Bird By Bird, writer Anne Lamott calls it a 24-hour stream of “self- loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, all the mistakes one has made today and over a lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to sh*t, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selﬂess love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.” Phew!
It can become quite overwhelming, and it’s difﬁcult to know how to start ﬁghting back. Fortunately, the good news is you can.
Dialling down the voice of that mean girl inside (and dialling up the voice of her much-nicer twin, your innercheerleader), is a process that certainly requires practise. “You can train your mind, like a muscle, the way you would at the gym,” says life coach Katherine McKenzie-Smith. “Negatives are so much easier to believe in than positives, but we can learn to question them.”
Most experts agree that silencing the voice of your inner-critic and becoming a Zen-like paragon of perfect self-love and acceptance shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. As mental health and well-being expert Dr Nadine Cameron explains, “If your inner-voice has its origins in things that were said to you over and over again when you were a child, it’s now represented by a robust neural pattern. But you can learn how to undermine it, while accepting that you might never be able to extinguish it altogether.”
The ﬁrst step to undermining that voice is getting down and dirty with exactly what it’s saying to you. “Instead of allowing a critical voice to remain vague, bring it into sharp focus,” advises Nadine. “Write down, in the most precise terms, what the critic is saying so you can effectively dispute its claims.”
And life and wellness coach Naomi Arnold agrees. “Becoming aware of that voice helps you start to identify that it isn’t you, and that what it’s saying calls out how mean and sometimes ridiculous the accusations are,” she tells us.
Because, if you think about it objectively, you probably aren’t the pathetic, out of shape, fundamentally unlovable, soon-to-be-ﬁred, worst daughter-slash-friend-slash-human ever. More like, a normal human being who makes mistakes, has feelings, and is tired, possibly premenstrual, and deﬁnitely in need of a tub of Ben & Jerry’s every now and then.
The secret is not giving up on the process, says life coach and motivational speaker Amy Coombe. “At the start, trying to retrain your inner-voice will feel fake and untrue, and it’s easy to fall back into nasty patterns. If you’ve been saying you’re ugly for years, when you ﬂip and start saying you’re beautiful, you won’t believe it. It will feel like a lie, but repeat it and practise it, and you’ll begin to build up the evidence to support it.” Evidence like that time you acted with amazing compassion towards a friend, or when you took that huge risk at work and it paid off. According to Naomi, when you start chronicling your victories, you’ll see patterns there, too.
SHAKING IT OFF
These patterns are clues to discovering what she calls your own “personal psychological resources” – tools you can draw on to get that voice back in her basket every time she tries to creep out again. “Sometimes, it’s just about saying what’s the one thing you can do to step out and move forward from where you are,” Naomi explains. “Something you have done before that’s worked, that will mean you don’t get paralysed by that voice.”
As you begin to keep closer tabs on the crazy lady upstairs, you’ll likely begin to notice there are some people in your life who really get her ﬁred up. Often, when we’re really living by our own wrong beliefs, we tend to seek out friends and partners who both support and reinforce those ideas. But once we’re on the journey out, those relationships often begin to lose their appeal.
You also need to know that your inner-critic isn’t going to enjoy giving up her portion of your mental real estate. Be kind to your inner-critic while she keeps up her little tantrum, knowing that, as Katherine explains, “She is trying to keep you small and safe. She’s trying to protect you by silencing all that threatens her. Acknowledge that she’s there, she’s part of you, but start choosing how much attention she gets.” So yes, learn from Cady Heron — don’t obsess over taking down your inner Regina George, because that will never go down well.
You probably aren’t the worst human ever. More like, a normal human being who makes mistakes, has feelings, is tired and definitely in need of a tub of Ben & Jerry’s every now and then.
Make your own YAYlist
Dance your inner- critic away with these feel-good tunes.
“Dynamite” by Asta feat. Allday
“Shut Up And Dance” by Walk The Moon
“I Am The Best” by 2NE1
“Flawless (Remix)” by Beyoncé feat. Nicki Minaj
“Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine
“Fantastic Baby” by Big Bang
“King” by Years & Years
“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac
“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten