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Mental health centre

Turn down the negative self-talk

By Cathy Comerford
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Most people have a constant stream of thoughts running through their heads acting as reminders of what we need to do.

But when those thoughts veer into negative thinking - what some people call 'Radio Negative' - a relentless self-critical voice which can range from a reminder to step up the exercise and lose a few pounds to aggressive self-hatred - it can have a serious impact on our lives, our relationships and our physical health.

Self-criticism is thought to be a phenomenon that cuts across culture, race, class and gender.

In his article in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology 'Criticizing and reassuring oneself: An exploration of forms, styles and reasons in female students', clinical psychologist Professor Paul Gilbert uses the comedian Billy Connolly as an example of how abuse in childhood had left him with a lifelong struggle to silence the inner voice telling him that he was not good enough.

Where does it come from?

"Some people have an underlying background voice that they are not quite good enough, not quite bright enough, not quite attractive enough," says Professor Gilbert who is head of the mental health research unit at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

"They don't have a good personality because they are irritable, or they are not good enough as a mother, or as a father - an underlying sense of not good enough in some way," he says.

"These individuals are always trying to stop bad things happening, are always on the lookout for the threat. They often come from competitive families where they have had to struggle to be recognised or they have been in families where there has been a bit of neglect."

Poor parenting, religion and a culture of competition and shaming can all play a part in creating this negative inner voice, he says.

"We learn to be self-critical when others have put us down and tell us that we are no good, inadequate or stupid," he says.

Hostile or bullying parenting, where a child is too frightened to express their anger or disappointment to a parent, can result in this kind of self-abuse in later life, he says.

"When you are in the presence of a very powerful other who could hurt you or help you, you have to be very careful how you deal with your anger towards them if they let you down. So this could be a god or it could be a parent," he says.

As a result this person learns to self-blame and self-criticise when anything does go wrong, even though the event may be entirely out of their hands.

Elise Moore-Searson, a life coach who offers career and executive coaching as well as personal development at her London based practice, also points the finger at parents, even well intentioned ones, giving an example which should give any tiger mums pause for thought.

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