Most of us learn that bullying, threatening and verbally abusing the people around us is deeply wrong, but it’s all too common for people to privately bully, threaten and abuse themselves in their own minds. You may have noticed that you criticize yourself in all kinds of unpleasant, unhelpful ways, and say things to yourself that you would never dream of saying to a friend, or even to someone who wasn’t a friend. In my experience as a hypnotherapist, even apparently confident and successful people can incessantly criticize themselves in private, and worry that they’re not good enough, that they’re going to be found out, or that they’ll never make up for that mistake they made when they were seventeen years old.
There are various reasons why people develop an inner critic like this. We sometimes internalize criticism from our teachers and carers at an early age. People who told us unhelpful things using personal, absolute language, like “You’ll never amount to anything” or “Why are you always such a no good blah blah blah?” This type of abusive communication is all too easy to instinctively absorb when we are feeling threatened and vulnerable.
Also, we humans evolved as a species over millions of years through very dangerous eras, where safety was never assured. To preserve our lives, we learned to pay more attention to negative, fearful, threatening experiences than to positive ones. A study in 2007 found that we notice faces with fearful expressions on them much faster than happy or neutral ones. The psychologist John Gottman has also observed that for every negative interaction in a relationship, you need five positive ones to outweigh it, if the relationship is to be healthy.
So if you’ve noticed that you dwell on unpleasant things more than on reminiscing about your successes, you’re not alone. However, you can learn to tame this inner critic, to correct this negative bias, and it’s simpler than you might think. As you were growing up, you have already learned how to tame many primal urges and instincts. For example, you’ve probably experienced getting angry at someone, and perhaps your heart started pumping harder, perhaps you began breathing faster, and your face may have flushed, as your body subconsciously prepared itself for a physical fight, but in spite of all that you tamed that instinct, you walked away, or even made peace with that person.
You’ve also probably had an urge to have ‘just one more’ piece of cake, or to buy a new pair of shoes, or a gadget that you knew you shouldn’t, and you tamed that instinct. You walked away. I’m not saying you’ve always exerted perfect self control in your life, but there are many, many examples each day of how you rein in your instincts. So just because you feel an urge to be negative about yourself doesn’t mean you have to allow it to happen. When you tame your own thinking, and learn to talk to yourself in a calmer, fairer, more civilized way, you’re using the same principles you’ve already learned for how to act in public, and how to speak appropriately to other people, and applying them to your own mind. Therapeutic hypnosis can help you learn to bring civilization to your mind, so that you can treat yourself more fairly, and feel a deeper, calmer sense of trust in yourself.