Hidden Hurt Domestic Abuse Information

Self-Talk, Affirmations and the Inner Critic

Self-talk and affirmations are just some of the ways of reclaiming our own inner true voice and wiping out the inner critic which has taken on board all the degrading and destructive beliefs we have built up around ourselves while being battered by daily verbal and emotional abuse. To truly overcome the negative feelings we are carrying around with us, we need to change our self-talk and retrain our inner critic with affirmations and awareness.

Don't panic! It is not complicated and not heavy!

One of the observations made by many survivors is that they have a lot of negative thoughts ... this is a normal part of both depression and anxiety. A lot of people are not aware of their own negative thinking, they sort of think negatively and feel bad about themselves, but don't really realise what they are doing. Negative thinking is basically self-talk, but the negative kind, and we tend to believe what we tell ourselves, so if I look in the mirror each morning and think 'I am ugly' then I will believe I am ugly, if I tell myself over and over again each time I feel anxious or nervous that I am a failure, I will believe that I am a failure, no good, can never be successful or happy. Apparently about 70% of our self-talk is negative - which sort of explains why there are so many depressed people around with poor self-image and self-esteem ... but the important thing for us to realise is that we can change the way we think and talk to ourselves, and that will have a direct influence on the way that we perceive ourselves and the way that we feel. The way to do that is by consciously replacing the negative self-talk with positive self-talk, for instance by using affirmations.

Okay, so what does an affirmation look like and how do I use it?

  • Affirmations are short positive messages for ourselves designed to replace the negative messages we have often carried with us from childhood - this is because our mind cannot hold two opposing thoughts or beliefs at the same time, e.g. I cannot believe 'I am ugly' and at the same time believe 'I am beautiful'. Try it: lie or sit down and lock the thought in your mind that your leg is too heavy for you to lift, repeat it to yourself or out loud over and over again, now hold that thought in your mind and at the same time try to lift your leg ... you can't do it, because your mind cannot believe your leg is too heavy to lift and at the same time believe you can lift your leg. 

  • Affirmations work best when they affirm the positive rather than denying the negative (e.g. "I am confident" will work better than "I am not nervous") - this is because again our mind tends to lock onto words and if we use the word 'nervous' then our mind will lock onto that word and sort of ignore the 'not' bit, i.e. we cannot use a word without thinking of the word and allowing it to enter our subconscious. If, for instance, I say to you "don't think of a DOG", what happens? An image of a dog enters your mind ... we cannot NOT think of a word that we use!

  • Affirmations can be verbal messages we say to ourselves or they can be written messages which we read out to ourselves. We can use post-its or little cards and stick them around the house or keep them by our bed to read morning and evening. The main thing is the message, when we repeat positive messages to ourselves frequently they become part of our belief structure and we begin to behave accordingly.

  • Affirmations are personal and present, i.e. they are statements which start with 'I', 'me' or 'my' - this is because we cannot control anything or anyone outside of ourselves, we only have control over ourselves, our goals, our beliefs, our values. They are in the present, so we use the present tense, e.g. "I am gaining confidence every day" is more effective than "I will be confident". We don't want to leave our mind the opportunity of putting our recovery off for another day! :)

You have to make up your own affirmations, they are personal to you and where you want to be, but examples of positive affirmations could be "I face each day positively", "I am at peace within myself", or "I accept/value myself and my body".

Recognise and reject our 'internal critic'

One of the things we have found is that nearly all of us have an 'internal critic' which may be the internalised voice of our dysfunctional family of origin or of an emotionally abusive spouse or even employer. This 'internal critic' is forever picking up on our faults, our weaknesses, our failings as a human being, it devalues us as human beings and leaves us with the general feeling that we are 'no good' or 'doomed to failure', it uses the words 'ought' and 'should' a lot and heaps guilt and shame on us ... you might well recognise the little voice in the back of your head which tells you that you don't deserve to be happy, that you always mess up, that no matter how hard you try, you will never be as good or as successful or as confident as .... (fill in the blanks!), that even if you did manage to do such and such okay today, that it was just luck and that next time you won't manage, that you ought to try harder, that you should be more patient. How do you feel when reading the words of the 'internal critic'? It is likely to leave you feeling bad about yourself and we tend to find that we are very quick to agree with the 'internal critic' because to a large extent it has been a constant companion for us since childhood.


The good news is that if we can learn to recognise the voice of our 'internal critic' we can also learn to reject it and instead replace it with the voice of our 'internal friend' - the voice inside our head which validates us, encourages us and comforts us. This also is about awareness and consciously changing our thought patterns. We learn to listen to ourselves and our self-talk and recognise when it is our 'internal critic' talking to us, then say to ourselves (and sometimes it helps to say it out loud): "no, I am not listening to you, I am being a friend to myself! ". Next we learn and practice being just that - a friend to ourselves, because we have found that we treat ourselves with much more harshness and condemnation than we would our friend, so we ask ourselves 'if I were talking to my friend, what would I say to encourage/comfort her/him?' and then we consciously tell ourselves what we would tell our friend if we were our friend.

After consciously practicing rejecting our 'internal critic' and encouraging our 'internal friend' for a while we find that it becomes easier and the critic loses its monopoly over us, we become more considerate and patient with ourselves and are not so dependent on the opinion of other people either. (Most of us have spent our lives so far waiting for validation and approval from people outside ourselves, and have been disappointed many times. Our 'internal friend' helps us validate ourselves and reduces the pain of rejection by those from whom we previously craved approval.)

Next: Self-hypnosis and Relaxation Techniques

Return from Self-talk, Affirmations and the Inner Critic to Awareness of the Self

Recommended Reading:

It's My Life Now - Starting over after an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence by Meg Dugan and Roger R. Hock. has been found to be helpful by a number of people recovering from an abusive relationship. Have a look at the portions available online to decide whether it may be of help to you - recovery is a very personal issue.

The Self-esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi - recommended by workshop facilitators.

The Self-esteem Journal: Using a Journal to Build Self-esteem (Overcoming Common Problems) by Alison Waines - A very helpful work book with exercises to dip in and out of while recovering.

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