Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. Many of us speak to ourselves in hurtful ways, using words we wouldn’t dream of using with others. This relentless negative self-talk manifests itself in our daily lives, causing stress and harm to our inner selves, and ultimately to those around us.
How we communicate with others is, as we all know, incredibly important, but how we communicate with ourselves is equally critical to our wellbeing. By learning how to talk to ourselves with a mindful, compassionate voice, we can not only free ourselves from our harmful self-talk, but also expand our abilities to communicate on a more honest, mindful level with others.
The Practice of Listening
The first step in the process is becoming fully aware of our own inner bully through the art of mindful listening. Many of us have been living with our negative self-talk for so long that it can be difficult to even notice it right away. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment with nonjudgmental attention, and this practice can help us cultivate personal awareness. Applying this practice to moments when you are feeling sad, angry, guilty, ashamed, etc. allows you to be a gentle witness to your inner dialogue. It’s in these times of suffering that we turn on ourselves, and by paying mindful attention to our inner voice during these difficult moments, we begin to see repeating phrases and patterns in the way we talk to ourselves and can then begin the work of naming and changing these inner habits.
The Practice of Exploration
After we’ve begun the process of mindfully naming our negative self-talk, we are ready to dive into the practice of exploring the root causes of the hurtful things we say to ourselves. Exposing these underlying issues can help us alleviate a lot of suffering in our lives. Explorers set out to discover and reveal; what are the beliefs or ideas you may be holding onto that are at the heart of your negative self-talk? What past experiences or societal influences may be behind your self-judgment?
The Practice of Questioning
The next step works in concert with the practice of exploration. Once we have identified our underlying beliefs and ideas that are causing us to lash out at ourselves, we can apply specific questions whenever our inner bully begins to tear us down. These questions are designed to help us pinpoint the stories we tell ourselves as a result of our inner judgment and focus instead on what is actually true. Asking good questions is a key part of communicating with others, and it can be a key part of communicating with ourselves as well. Some of the questions we might ask ourselves would be, “what judgment am I making,” “what story am I telling myself as a result of this judgment,” and “what do I know to be true?”
The Practice of Releasing
There is a lot of hard work in these first three practices, and now we are ready to let go of the destructive beliefs and stories that have given rise to our negative self-talk. By setting down the burden of negative self-talk and replacing it with truthful and compassionate self-talk instead, we can begin the work of being friends with ourselves rather than enemies. Now is the time to ask ourselves if we are clinging to our negative self-talk because it’s become a familiar and comfortable habit. We may also have created an identity for ourselves around our beliefs and stories, and it may be difficult to let go of that identity and see ourselves from a new perspective. This is where the power of forgiveness and compassion can help us mend our relationship with ourselves and open our hearts to new ways of being.
The Practice of Balance
Finally, we are ready to adopt new habits and new ways of communicating with ourselves that are more in tune with the self-compassionate person we aspire to be. Some of these habits might include replacing judgmental language with simple observational language, or inserting positive phrases into our inner dialogue every morning. Practicing this balance doesn’t mean replacing chronic negativity with positive affirmations that aren’t true for us, but it can involve looking for positivity and optimism in our daily lives in order to give our inner dialogue some sense of equilibrium.
Ready to learn more about these five mindful practices and silence your judgmental inner voice for good? Cynthia Kane’s book Talk to Yourself Like a Buddhist is available now from all major retailers as well as from our website here.