There are a lot of outside influences that constantly barrage us with ideas of what success looks like. Media, social media, advertising, friends, families, even strangers in today’s culture all have an opinion on what’s best. On social media specifically, posting seems to invite the opinions of others regardless of if they’re solicited. But for the person with a substance use disorder, the critic with the loudest, harshest voice comes from within. The inner-critic is the enemy on the inside, the one with all the information about us that never seems to relent. The negative thought patterns established by the inner critic drain our positive feelings about ourselves and foster self-doubt, frustration, and distrust. How do we silence the inner critic?
Where Did That Voice Come From?
The inner voice feels as if it’s always been with us and most of us can’t remember a time when it was not there to narrate. As the inner voice is not the conscience or intuition but a separate narrative, it has to have its genesis from somewhere outside us. For most, the inner critic is a result of early childhood experiences that we have internalized into beliefs about ourselves. The most common source of this is our parents or those who raised us. While some had parents that spoke directly to us harshly or negatively, there are others who picked up this negative voice from the way their parents felt about themselves, especially if it was expressed out loud. An example of this would be if a child often heard her mother speak negatively about herself or the way she looked out loud, the child’s inner critic would likely sound the same. The brain is the most moldable in early childhood, the messages they repeatedly hear have the potential to become narratives and build belief systems.
For the person with a substance use disorder, it’s often the result of low self-esteem or low self-worth that was developed as an early manifestation of the disorder. Many of the behavioral and mental symptoms of substance use disorders appear long before an actual substance is used. If this person had the additional experience of a parent that spoke harshly or was critical, over time the inner critic can become one of the loudest and most dominant guides.
How Do I Keep It Quiet?
The conversation you have with yourself is the most important and occurs on a regular basis. The exchange of your inner monologue goes back and forth constantly. When the person who struggles with a substance use disorder adds in fear, shame, and poor self-image to this mix, it often leaves them frozen and unable to make positive or healthy changes. Tools learned in treatment and 12-Step programs often help to start changing the narrative of the inner critic, as spirituality and support can help connect people back to the reality that exists outside of them. There are other processes that help quiet the inner critic.
- Practice awareness of your thoughts
Once you’re aware that there is a negative inner critic pretending to be your conscience, practice becoming aware of when it’s speaking. Pause to consider if the thought is based on anything real or factual or if it seems to come out in order to perpetuate doubt.
- Pay attention to things that seem to cause your inner critic to start talking
Is your inner critic sensitive about the way you look and does it get loudest when you take that last look in the mirror while getting ready? Or does it doubt you as you turn in a work assignment or when you make a new friend? When does it seem to become the most negative? This can help you identify where these thoughts began in the first place.
- Express the thoughts
Get the negative thoughts out of you and don’t let them ruminate. Journal the thoughts, even consider journaling any anger or hurt you may feel as a result of your inner voice. Talk to trusted friends and let them hear these thoughts. They can be an outside source to remind you these thoughts are not reality and they can affirm the qualities the inner critic tries to tear down.
- Consider what reality would be like if the thoughts were true
What if you really were incapable of your job and you were just fooling everyone into believing you were smart? Would you have been able to get hired at that job? Or keep it? Would you lack an understanding of the concepts needed to do the job? It helps to draw the difference between what is really going on in our surroundings as opposed to the negative image created by the inner critic.
- Replace the negative thoughts with accurate ones
What do you know to be true? If your inner critic is telling you the people in your life don’t really like you, consider the actions of those same people. When your inner critic insists they don’t love you, replace the thought with reality, for example, “my friends and family express to me how much I mean to them on a daily basis”.
- Practice positive affirmations.
Write down the positive opposite of the negative ideas your inner critic presents and practice saying them to yourself on a daily basis. Try saying them to yourself in the mirror each morning as you start your day and use specific ones to fight negativity throughout it.
You can conquer the negative voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, fit enough. Your intuition knows that this voice isn’t based in reality and that you are loved. Practice patience with yourself as you let that inner critic go.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.