Self-critical thoughts are those negative words that prick and burst your balloon of confidence.
However hard you try to squash and suppress them they can still pop up at the worst times.
A client of mine, who is an excellent and committed teacher, found that her critical thoughts appeared whenever she was observed or appraised. The negative voices would start immediately and could be:
“Why did you say that, they’ll think you’re stupid?” or “This lesson is so boring, you’re really not a good teacher“.
She would try to ignore this storm of thinking or try to think positively, but it never worked so she came to see me.
Research has shown that the more you try to stamp down these critical thoughts the stronger they become (ironic rebound).
So what can you do instead?
Observe your thoughts. Next time you hear the negative voice in your head remember or write down the words it uses and how it makes you feel.
Stick with your thoughts. Instead of trying to push them away let them stay with you, even though it feels very uncomfortable. I can guarantee they will pass and be replaced by new thoughts.
Understand your belief behind the thoughts. In the case of my teacher client her belief was “I’m not good enough“. This meant she thought of herself as an imposter at work and that she would be caught out by anyone observing her as not a good enough teacher.
Challenge the belief. Once you’ve identified the belief behind your self-critical thoughts you will probably realise that the belief is untrue. Question that belief, where did it come from? What evidence is there to support or disprove it? My teacher client identified that her belief had come from childhood when she wasn’t as academically clever as her sister. When she challenged the belief with the facts of her performance at school and as a teacher she could change the belief to be “I’m not a perfect teacher but I am a good one”.
Label the thoughts. Now you have neutralised your belief you will find you can take your self-critical thoughts less seriously. When they pop up (which they still will) try labelling them as my “I’m not good enough” thoughts, or whatever your belief was. This takes away their power until a different thought replaces them.
This process will release you from being weighed down by your negative beliefs. Although it won’t stop self-critical thoughts they will have less hold over you.