How to Silence the Bully in the Mirror

It's not what we say aloud that determines our lives. It's what we whisper to ourselves that has the most power.

Imagine going through life with the relentless voice of a critic who, without fail, is always there to magnify your blunders, predict subsequent failures, belittle your accomplishments, and label you as unworthy and inadequate. As this voice intensifies, we start to drift into a whirlpool permeated by self-doubt and immense shame. The weight of this highly toxic adversary makes it difficult to stay afloat and often pulls us down into a state of depression and elevated anxiety. By tolerating and reinforcing this bully, we also become more susceptible to abusive relationships with others and limit our potential for success. Now ask yourself whether you would tolerate this incessant critic who over time chisels away your ability to experience serenity and joy. Many people live with this negative voice, unaware of the tremendous toll it takes on their mental and emotional health. As impressionable children, we look to our primary caregivers to gauge and ultimately determine our own sense of self-worth. When we internalize a high level of criticism and shame, it often ignites the vicious cycle of negative self-talk.

While identifying and refuting this seemingly automatic and ingrained pattern can be difficult, there are steps you can start taking today in order to disrupt the vicious cycle. In doing so, you can also accelerate the healing process, stripping away the childhood wounds that drive the pattern of negative self-talk while also developing a more balanced, authentic, and empowered version of yourself.

 Follow these steps to defeat your inner bully:

 1.    Bring the voice of your internalized critic into awareness. We must practice recognizing and monitoring the judging, shaming, and limiting words we say to ourselves as a means of gaining better control. As you read this, try to think of times in your day when you tend to be particularly critical and unkind to yourself. For many, it begins upon waking up and glancing at ourselves in the mirror. We are quick to greet ourselves with criticism for not looking the way we want, running behind schedule, and the list goes on. We commence the day by saturating ourselves with limiting statements. Once the awareness is gained, you can begin to not only monitor, but also challenge and rescript the dialogue.

2.    Make a point of engaging in self-care as a means of nurturing yourselves particularly during periods of time when you more often fall prey to negative self-talk. It's rather easy to neglect our self-care in the mist of the chaos and over scheduling that often predominates our days. It can be helpful to draft a list and schedule accessible outlets for self-care.

3.    Create a list of the self-attacking statements you frequently say to yourself and then read the words or phrases a loud as though you were directing them at a loved one. As the discomfort rises, ask yourself why it's comfortable to remain in a verbally abusive relationship with yourself and yet implausible to imagine treating another person in your inner circle with the same level of abuse. Once this exercise is complete, you may tear the paper you used into small pieces and as you discard them into a trashcan, imagine yourself extricating yourself from this self-defeating cycle.

4.    Create a journal of gratitude and celebrate any seemingly inconsequential accomplishment throughout your day. In doing so, you can begin to redirect yourself from hyper-focusing on perceived weaknesses and learn to rejoice in the strengths that have gone unnoticed.

5.    Lastly, identify and challenge the cognitive errors that perpetuate the cycle of negative self-talk. Whether it be a tendency to catastrophize, filter out the positive, or overgeneralize, these distorted thoughts are highly limiting as they cloud our perception of ourselves as well as the way in which we believe other people experience us. Engaging in reality testing helps to provide access to rational thinking and motivates us to be more goal-directed, solution-focused, and productive.

As you read the steps and decide to give yourself an opportunity to silence this insidious voice, remember that you are that much closer to realizing your true inherent value. It is expected that this process will bring about an array of conflicting emotions, many of which are likely to be deeply root in childhood wounds. No matter how much time it takes for you to recognize your immeasurable worth, rest assure that you will uncover it buried underneath the layers of negative-speak. This I know to be true.

- Shari Balbien, MFT

Shari Balbien, Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Director of Adult Programs, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology from California State University, Northridge and a master's degree in counseling psychology from California Lutheran University. Although well-versed in various client populations, Shari is particularly skilled at working with children ages 2-5 as well as their respective families. Shari recognizes the value in treating not only the young child or adolescent, but also incorporating the entire family system as every family member has an active role in creating positive changes. 

Carolyn Hall