It’s taken me a long time to notice that voice. Always picking faults and putting me down. That’s not me, but it’s a powerful echo from childhood that, until recently I could not even name. This voice, so hard to detect at first, has made me doubt myself, hate myself, and talk down to myself. It’s made me skip out on opportunities that could have created joy and personal growth, and it’s constantly, and tersely, requesting that I hide myself away.
It’s been a long time coming for that voice inside that’s trying to kill my creativity and snuff out my opportunities to grow. I realised what was happening when I started to pay closer attention to my body and my thoughts. This, with the help of meditation, encouraged me to understand and engage with the thoughts that drove me to self-sabotage. By distancing myself from the thoughts that came and went, causing depression and anxiety as I held onto them and let them drag me down, I was able to lift myself up. When you pay attention to the thoughts and their negative hold, you can better disengage from them. Once you do this, you can start to work the other way, catching yourself in the process of critical self-talk, distancing and changing the thought pattern.
Instead of ‘I’m a failure’, I now see that I have a thought which thinks: ‘you are failing’, but it is neither true, nor me, only a thought. Once I can get to this point, putting the breaks on things, I can then reverse engineer the thought and latch onto a positive iteration. ‘I am not a failure. I am doing my best under difficult circumstances with little support. This is hard, and anyone would struggle to be successful under these conditions.’ Also, what is failure? Making mistakes might be a failure in the short-term, but you have an entire life to live and mistakes are part of the process of learning. You can’t really be a mistake. We humans are ever-changing and ever-developing. What I am today, I may not be tomorrow. So can anyone be a failure? I’m not sure it’s even possible, so long as you believe that failure is a state preceding success, rather than something which cannot change.
What about ‘You are ugly’? So what? There are plenty of successful AND ugly people in the world. Besides which, what I may deem ugly, others may deem beautiful, as attraction varies widely. Love is about more than what you look like. In fact, I could go so far as to say what you look like matters very little. What about how well you care for your partner? What about how interesting you are? Are you funny? That goes some way, believe me! Do you read a lot? Have you got a good mind? There are so many facets of human beauty outside of what your body looks like. And let’s face it, without some serious and dangerous surgery, you’re stuck with what you’ve got, so look after it and let it be!
If you can put the breaks on your thoughts and look at them from a distance, as meditation teaches you to do, you’re no longer so close that the thought and you are one. I am not a failure because I do not belong to this thought. I am not ugly, because a thought about how I may look ugly, is not one I wish to choose to attach myself to. In the famous words of the French philosopher Renes Descartes: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Meditation gives you the ability to pick which associations you wish to give the power of ‘I’ to, and which you do not. This is a supremely powerful gift, and one I hope that anyone can use.
Here’s a task for you to do. Meditate once a week or try to do this when you are stressed or feeling bad about yourself. Do this for 10 minutes using a guided meditation like the headspace app (my favourite). I would recommend trying the skill of ‘noting’ which is about acknowledging a thought, noting it, and giving it no further fuel to turn into a problem. Then, once you’ve figured out what negative thoughts are shouting the loudest, write three of them down on paper. Once you have these, take one at a time, firstly writing about how the thought came from your mind, but does not belong to you, the ‘I’ part of yourself. Then, think about a few ways that this thought doesn’t matter or is not important to your values. Ultimately, we are striving to learn, develop and find love, joy and happiness. If the thought doesn’t give you these things, let it be and don’t associate with it. Doing this a few times over the space of weeks and months can allow you to stop your inner critic from killing your positive inner voice.
We’re all fighting a battle with a silent killer, the critic, a manifestation of thoughts about you which do not, in reality, belong to you. They are the external voices of many of the harsh experiences in your life. Meditation can help you freeze these thoughts from the critic, become more aware of them, and then, reverse engineer more positive thoughts which you can choose to claim as your own. You are not at the mercy of your inner critic, but you do need to out it and make it visible, otherwise it will continue to kill your true, authentic self until you do.
Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Meditation opens up to the critic and gives us tools to manage this voice. You deserve that dialogue, so you can be happier, healthier and more fulfilled in your life. Good health to you.