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How to tame your negative inner voice

An inner voice is something that nearly everyone has. It is a soundtrack of our thoughts. The narrative that guides our days and our experiences. Our thoughts can be very helpful at times, however negative thoughts are something that many people struggle with. The negative thoughts form a stream of negative consciousness, our negative inner voice. For some of us, the negative voice is louder and more persistent. If your inner voice is constantly nagging and criticising, you’re not alone.

A constant stream of negativity can make studying next to impossible. You might have seen the Beyond Blue campaign, ‘Brains have a mind of their own’. This short video sums it up pretty well.

 

For many people, some small tips and tricks can hold our negative voices at bay. If tips like these don’t work for you, it might be a good idea to seek out a mental health professional to help you.

Let’s go through some methods to tame that negative voice.

1. Remember the biological basis.

The negative voice has a biological basis – the instinctive kind of anxiety that comes from the fight, flight or freeze response. During this response, the neocortex of our brain – responsible for higher-order thinking – stops working and we operate purely out of the need to survive. Once upon a time, this kept us safe from predators, and to maintain social cohesion. In the past, being excluded from the social group meant starvation, exposure to the elements and death.

These days, we usually aren’t facing these kinds of threats. So our anxiety attaches to other things… Driving, parties, meeting new people, playing sport.

To a certain extent, it can be helpful to remind yourself of the biological basis. You can tell yourself ‘this worrying, anxious instinct does not serve a purpose in my modern life’.

2. Think ‘What if I spoke to others like that?’

It’s important to remember that we are often our own harshest critic. If we spoke to other people the way that we speak to ourselves, we would have no friends. Many of us do have friends though. We all have the capacity to be kinder to ourselves, if we can think of our own mind as a friend.

3. Give that voice a name.

Give your negative voice a name. Separate it from yourself and who you are. Apologies if you’ve got a perfectly lovely Great Aunt Beryl, but let’s imagine that negative voice is a crotchety old lady called Beryl who won’t stop nagging you. Telling Beryl to get stuffed will feel pretty satisfying. It can also highlight the ridiculousness of what we tell ourselves.

4. Take time to identify your thoughts.

Sometimes, we aren’t even aware of what our thoughts are. More often, we feel an emotion, but cannot always pinpoint the thoughts that triggered the emotion. Take a moment to analyse how your thoughts affect your emotions. You can do this in your mind, but sometimes writing it down can be helpful. In doing this, you can unpick exactly what thoughts you had that made you feel a certain emotion. Not only will this create self-awareness, but it will also help you identify your own thoughts.

For example:

Your friend Sam received a better grade than you in an assignment. When you find out, you feel upset and jealous. Logically you know that your assignment was fairly marked and Sam deserved a great mark, but the emotions feel overwhelming. When you stop to think, ‘Why am I feeling this way?’, you slowly realise that you had several thoughts that triggered you feeling upset and jealous.

These included: ‘I’m not really that intelligent, I shouldn’t be at uni’… ‘I spent such a long time on that assignment, I’m pretty slow’… ‘Why does Sam even want to be my friend, she’s way smarter than me’… ‘Sam has got things pretty easy’.

In this scenario, the thoughts that triggered your emotions were negatives ones. Sometimes our brains can get away from us and start a train of thought that is completely irrational. Separating thoughts from emotions can create space to examine why we feel a certain way, and make room to correct our thought patterns if necessary.

Once you realise that, it’s time to challenge those thoughts and replace them with positive ones!

5. Challenge your negative thoughts with reason.

You might need to create space, like we just discussed, to even know what negative thoughts you had. Other times, it is very obvious what your thoughts were.

Do you recognise these thoughts? “Why do I even try?”, “What’s wrong with me?”, “I’m useless” or “I am a failure”.

Often, we are constantly judging our every action, every word we said in social interaction, telling ourselves “I sounded so stupid, everyone must hate me”. When this is happening a lot, it often clouds our ability to function normally. In most cases, it is highly unlikely that other people think you sounded stupid or that you are a failure. You can rationalise these thoughts, by responding with well-founded arguments.

Your negative inner voice tells you that the nasty customer you served at work was only upset because you did something wrong. Logically, in remembering the situation, you know that you did not do anything wrong. Yet your negative inner voice just wants to blame you for it! By responding with logic, sometimes we can stop these thoughts. Try telling yourself how it happened with some objectivity, for example, “This customer was upset for a reason beyond my control, and they were not entitled to treat me like that.”

6. Replace the negative thoughts with positive ones.

If you notice a thought like that, replace it with a positive one. It sounds overly simplistic, but with consistency, this can work! When your brain tells you “I’m a failure”, challenge it with a statement like “I am proud of my accomplishments”.

“Everyone must think I am uptight” ⇒ “I am a very organised person.”

“I am so far behind other people my age” ⇒ “I have a range of experiences that I gained at my own pace.”

Sometimes, saying it aloud can help. Give it a go!


If you find these methods just aren’t cutting it, consider seeking the help of mental health professional. UNE students can access free counselling through UNE Student Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). They are fully qualified and registered psychologists, offering on-campus appointments and phone/video chat sessions for online students. The service is confidential and free for UNE students.

You can contact them Monday- Friday, 9am-4 pm, on (02) 6773 2897.

For more urgent assistance, UNE offers After Hours Support on weekdays from 4.00pm to 9.00am AEST, weekends and public holidays. Phone 1300 661 927 or text 0488 884 169. Alternatively, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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