How to shut your inner voice.  The critical one inside your head.

How to shut your inner voice.  The critical one inside your head. 

When I was young I had this vision of myself.  I was not good enough.  I was stupid.  Others looked down on me.   I wore the wrong clothes.  I didn’t belong.

If you asked friends who’ve known me since childhood I’m sure they’d say the opposite.   That I was confident, popular.  I was outgoing and fun.    But they didn’t hear what went on in my head.

Everything I said and did proved to me I was an idiot.  At least that’s what my inner voice told me every minute of the day.  

It gave me a constant ear-bashing.   ‘Why did you say that you fool!’

‘You’re so embarrassing, why did you do that!’  

None of it was nice.  And it wouldn’t let up.   Even hours later, I’d dissect events in my head.  

This was my story.   An internal story that only I knew.   One that said I was no good.   And nothing I said or did could live up to anything else in my head.

I wasn’t even aware this narrative was there.  But it was a story that informed my life and all that happened within it.

When I was young I was a ‘people pleaser’, morphing into who and what anyone wanted me to be.  That’s why I was great at fitting in.

My opinions were ones I thought others wanted to hear.  They could change depending on who I was with and the circumstances.  I didn’t want people to think I was stupid for any of my own.

I was afraid of confrontation.  (I know, those who know me now would laugh out loud at this!).   I found it hard to say no. Even if it meant accepting behaviour that was not good enough for me.

That voice in my head told me to keep my head low, not to invite criticism, not to speak out.   I’d change my behaviour to keep the peace at all times.  Better than standing out and judged for it.

It’s not surprising that I ended up in a destructive relationship. Or blamed for it.  Everything my ex said, even after he tried to kill me, was only what I told myself anyway.

‘You deserve it’.  

‘You’re worthless’.

‘If only you’d done X, then the abuse wouldn’t have happened in the first place’. 

You’re to blame. You’re to blame. You’re to blame.

My inner voice was like the cheerleader to his negative criticisms.  Booming out loud in my head the same negative accusations he was shouting at me.

I didn’t know I had this unique story then.  An internal, negative dialogue.  I don’t think I could even hear it consciously. 

It was subliminal, below the surface.  A constant presence I was so used to, I didn’t even notice it.   But I felt the shame of its effect.

It was only when I found the courage to ask myself: ‘why am I in this abusive relationship?’

‘Why am I staying when others would flee?’ that I learnt of its existence.

But first I had to understand I had zero self-esteem and that was the root of it.   When you have little self-worth you attract those who treat you as worthless. 

Knowing this was the key that opened the floodgates.  The one that led inside my head.  Man, it was noisy in there!  That voice!  The one that bashed me with negative thoughts.   It was relentless.  It wouldn’t let up.  

Give me a break!’ I thought.

I didn’t like this narrative.  This story of who it presented me as.  I had to tear it up.  This wasn’t who I was at heart.  Or the true me.

But where had it come from?  This needy version of myself?  The one who held her head down in shame and felt worthless?

When we are children the seeds of our emotional wellbeing are sown. Do we feel accepted, loved, safe, supported, trusted and believed in? Understood and valued?   Nurturing these are crucial to a child’s self-worth.

If our emotional needs are all met, then we grow up to have a healthy self-esteem as adults.  We feel self-love, self-worth.  We can set healthy boundaries of what is good or not for us and for our wellbeing.  

If not fully met, then insecurity fills the gap.   It manifests as a feeling there’s something missing inside us, that somehow we don’t belong.  

We fear connection, abandonment.  We’re frightened of being vulnerable.   We mistrust our gut instincts and ignore any warning bells of danger.   

We may attract someone we convince ourselves can plug this hole inside, as I did.  But they’re most likely someone just as needy as we.  Who fear the same as we do.

As soon as we start to feel a connection with them they push us away, before we ‘abandon them’.   This confirms our worst fears.   That we aren’t good enough.

But it is a script, although a negative one, that’s familiar to us from childhood.   Their baggage matches ours, which makes us feel comfortable.

When people are abusive towards us.  A partner.  Even a bully at work.  It confirms what we feel inside.  That we don’t measure up to others.  We deserve what we get.  And the voice in our head only agrees.

This doesn’t have to mean we’ve come from an abusive home or past.   Mine was a happy, secure and safe home.  It is just a case of whether or not all our emotional needs were met as a child.

But what if we can rewrite this internal dialogue?  What if we we change our story?     We can.   I did.   And this is how:  We need to separate what we do, from who we are.  

No-one is perfect.  Everyone does stupid things.  It’s how we react to them that is the difference.  I had to learn to tell myself: ‘that was a stupid thing I did today’, but that doesn’t mean I am stupid.

I stayed with a man who was a danger to me. I had to accept that that was a bad choice.   But it didn’t mean I deserved violence to happen to me.

By absolving myself of blame, I was able to then ask myself.  What can I learn from this?  What better choices can I make next time?

Now, if I do something cringeworthy.  It might even rank as one of my most embarrassing moments in life.  I’ve learnt to let it go.

What I do, or what I say – and believe me I can and say some stupid things with regularity – are not the sum of who I am.   I can accept it was not the greatest thing to do or say.  I can learn from it and move on.

That way, I can look at things I do as learning curves.  I can turn negative into positive.  I can improve as I go.  We’re all a work in progress that way.

It’s a rule I can also apply to others:  what they do or say is not the sum total of who they are.  What they say or do may not be great either and it might be hurtful to me.  But it’s not personal.

I can accept it without judgement.  Then choose to forgive them for it.  Or walk away, if it’s behaviour not good enough for me or for my wellbeing.

I’ve learnt to stop being so hard on myself.  I’ve shut that voice up inside or at least got it down to a barely perceptible level.   Without that noise and in the stillness, I’m kind of liking the me I see now.

What is your inner voice telling you?  What negative script do you need to change about yourself? 

Let me know in the comments below.

Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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12 thoughts on “How to shut your inner voice. The critical one inside your head

  1. When I read your words it’s like I could’ve written them myself.
    It’s like you’ve looked inside of my own head and have been able to articulate what’s going on in there.
    Reading this gives me clarity.
    It helps to stop the self blame and self anger.
    It helps me to understand myself so much better.
    There is a lot of power in this.
    This is what is helping to save me from repeating the same mistakes and patterns from happening again.
    This is healing.
    And I for one cannot thank you enough.

    1. Hi Lisa. I’m so glad it resonates with you in a helpful way. It’s so easy for us to confuse the two and spend years blaming ourselves and thinking what we do or say only proves we are not good enough. But it’s also easier than we think to rewrite that negative narrative in our heads. It just takes practice and you’ll get better at it with time. Thank you for your feedback and being part of this Unbeatable community x

  2. Yes, Viv – you are so right – there have certainly been times when it’s been very NOISY in my head too!! Outwardly successful, confident and funny – I’ve had times when the voice is telling me I’m about to be found out, that someone’s about to realise it’s a sham. I’ve found Mindfulness – for me it was through Mark Williams’ book, “Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World” – and it has mostly taken care of that voice… xx

    1. It’s funny isn’t it as we can appear so confident and strong to the outside world, even when they are at their noisiest. I’ll look that book up, sounds great. I think age helps calm them down too, that’s if we learn to separate the destructive thoughts from those that can teach us something along the way xx

  3. Hello Vivian,

    Keep up the excellent work! I love reading your posts – they resonate so much with me.

    Rewriting your story can take years; and you’re right – it has nothing to do with intelligence. I did some intensive one-on-one therapy which helped me carve out the path I have embarked on. During that process, I came to the realization that I was not to blame for the verbal and emotional abuse. No matter how angry your partner is with you, that does not give them license to be cruel!

    One huge clue that it’s “not all my fault”: I am surrounded by loving friends and family who think the world of me (as much as I cherish them). I have ZERO conflict anywhere else in my life and when I started telling them (before the therapy) how awful a person I was, they told me I must have been speaking about a different person!

    Another huge clue: my spouse has virtually no friends, and even his kids are reluctant to spend much time with him, because they’ve seen how he treats me and they hate it.

    Another huge clue: it really doesn’t matter what I do, what I say, how “perfectly” I do things. the end result is the same: he WILL find some reason to dump his venom on me.

    I am happy to report that, although we are still living in the same house, I have learned to protect myself from the onslaughts. I feel more emotionally stable now, and his rants have very little effect on me. They only affect me in the sense that I crave some peace and quiet around the house! And – clueless as he is – he blames me for the lack of intimacy between us.

    Funny how that works.

  4. Hi Pierrette and thanks so much for your comment and encouragement, yet again! I couldn’t agree more. We are not to blame. No-one deserves abuse. It’s important to surround ourselves with friends and family who can validate us, so we remember we’re not going crazy. No matter how how we try they will dump venom and / or shift the goalposts or change their rules. So, like you are doing, we need to learn to detach from this as their problem, not ours. Stay strong and thanks for being a valuable part of this community x

  5. How can i not be responsible for the consequences of my choices?? I chose to A. Then B happened. Its a natural consequence. I loved a monster, he abused me. My stupidity led to my being abused.

    1. You are not to blame for any abuse Jamilla. Narcissists and abusive people instinctively spot those who are low in self-esteem and more likely to put others needs before their own. They sense that we are easy to manipulate. They exploit this, by gradually grooming us to accept more and more of their abuse. Their tactics are a form of brainwashing and very hard to combat when we are lacking self-worth. Our lack of self-esteem comes from childhood where our emotional needs are not fully met. We are not to blame for that either. Nor our are parents, as negative patterns were passed down to them. The relationship ‘feels right’ to us as we are replicating a negative pattern from our childhood in some way. If we have a fear of abandonment for example, we choose someone who we think is needy of us, therefore less likely to leave us. (The irony is that their neediness makes them unable to meet our needs, so they are not the ones to allay our fear of abandonment). We are replicating patterns from our childhood, but we can master them. Once we understand why we made that choice to be in a relationship that is no good for us, then we can change it and make better choices next time. We are responsible for our choices, but we are not to blame for abuse.

  6. I am loving reading your articles. They resonate so so much with me. I am really struggling with turning things around though and feel like I am stuck in some kind of quick sand at the moment and just cannot get out. Moving from bad relationship to bad relationship! Can you offer any advice or point me in the direction of any further reading or help ? Thanks

    1. Thanks so much Dawn! I appreciate your support and feedback, as it makes it all worthwhile. I’m sorry you’re struggling. I know the feeling, it’s a long, difficult process. One book that was life-changing for me is ‘Women who love too much’ by Robin Norwood. I found it really helpful in understanding these patterns and ourselves and why we are attracted to these types. I also see your name on the waiting list for my online video course, which is great, thank you. This is the first in a series of 4 courses I have planned to help you go from victim to survivor. How to break those negative patterns and the cycle so you don’t keep going back to bad relationships etc. I think you’ll find it helpful. You’ll be receiving a direct email about this course, which starts very soon.

  7. Day one of my new year and Im so glad i got on to your page again to read these articles. Been in a vicious cycle of an abusive relationship with a narcissistic man who ALMOST had me lose my mind a matter of weeks ago. Im very lucky and fortunate to have the knowledge deep down from the help of people such as yourself and my friends and family, and my own inner strength to drag myself out of there for the final time, and it hurts less this time because im beginning to see the root truths such as this article subject.

    step one of my new year its focusing inward at my own perception of myself and learning to love myself for who i am anf accepting me! Thank you for this article its helped me so very much today.

    1. Happy New Year Amelia, it’s so nice to hear from you. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been struggling again and caught back in that abusive cycle. It is so pervasive and easy to get sucked back in, I know. I’m glad to hear you are doing the right thing, that is taking your focus away from him and putting it back onto you. That is the most important thing to do. It might be worth considering my online video course – Start with Me: Survivor to staying strong as I created it especially for those who are trying to break the cycle, but finding it hard. You can find more information about it here: Stay strong. You are about the age I was when I broke free and turned my life around. You can do this x

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