Vocalizing the Critic

In this column I often write about the critical voice in our minds that can convince us to believe negative thoughts about ourselves. Sometimes this happens without us even realizing it and it can impact our mood and our behaviours. 

You are so unattractive.

No one likes you.

You are such an idiot; I cannot believe you just did that.

You are going to be alone forever. 

Any of these, or versions of these, sound familiar? The trouble with critics is that when left unattended and unacknowledged they tend to wreak havoc in our minds, often without us even realizing it. We follow their lies without question and start to believe that what they say is true. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) this is called fusion, when we come to believe that we are our thoughts. The aim in this therapy is defusion, a concept in which we remember that thoughts are just thoughts, that we are not our thoughts, and that we can take a step back and observe our thoughts. When we practice defusion the outcome is a more peaceful mind, a better sense of self, and improved overall well-being. 

There are several ways to unattach yourself from the critic. In ACT there is a strategy called Thanking the Mind. This is where you observe the thoughts and when you notice an unhealthy thought you simply say, “Thank you, mind.” and let the thought pass. It sounds quite simple, and it is. Once we notice the thought, we can separate ourselves from it, instead of being enmeshed in it. It would be nice if we could simply stop these thoughts from happening, but that is not really possible. For example, if I say, “Twinkle, Twinkle” you have likely finished that sentence without me even asking. We cannot stop thoughts, but we can change our relationship with them. Thanking the mind is one way to do this - thank you, mind but I am not following you down that rabbit hole today.  

Another tactic is to voice the thoughts with people that you trust or out loud on your own. Once we vocalize the thoughts, we often see how unrealistic or downright silly they are. I am not sure why this is but inside our minds everything is more believable. I have a few great friends that I practice this with. At times we laugh at the ridiculousness of the thought. Sometimes we acknowledge the feelings and what it is like to have that thought with compassion and provide reassurance. This can also be done on your own through writing the thoughts out. Remember this can always be destroyed after. Just saying them out loud can empower you to question what you are hearing about yourself thus depowering the pervasiveness of the thought, decreasing the negative influence in your life.
One final way, which may work great if you are musical or have kids is to say the thought out loud in a funny voice or to sing it. This ACT strategy can make you giggle while you see how unhelpful the thought is in your life. Whether you voice it, write it down, sing it, or give it a character voice, finding the strategy that works best for you to defuse from the thoughts that guide your behaviours is an excellent way to practice reframing the thoughts that guide you in your life to more neutral or positive ways of seeing yourself in the world.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.