Do you talk to your friends in the same way that you talk to yourself?
For many of us, our biggest critic is not our worst enemy. It’s ourselves.
Without realising it, we can be incredibly unkind to ourselves, even for the most minor infraction.
PhDs can often be breeding grounds for negative self-talk. There is an inherent degree of uncertainty associated with doing a PhD, and the stress levels are high given the level of academic attainment required.
What’s more, many PhD students live on low incomes and find themselves living precariously.
On top of that, a PhD is necessarily the product of countless mistakes, dead ends, failed experiments, incorrect assumptions and mis-understandings. That’s kind of the point.
But when we do mess up, and when we do notice that we’ve taken a wrong turn, that’s when the negative self-talk can be dialled up to volume 11.
Faced with an already stressful and uncertain environment, our internal critic can do its best to convince us we’re stupid, failing or that we haven’t got what it takes.
And before long, we start to believe it. We start to truly feel that we’re stupid, or that we’re failing. Even if objective reality suggests otherwise.
The internal critic can have such a tight grip over us that it has the final say on how we see ourselves.
Ominously, this can all take place without us really being aware of it. From my own experience, my internal critic was a part of my life for so long it had just become part of my internal monologue. I never really noticed how rude it was, or how much it was putting me down.
It’s only when we truly stop to listen to the way we talk to ourselves that we can assess whether or not it’s compassionate or destructive.
If you notice yourself engaging in negative self talk, it’s time to do something about it. The easiest way is to engage in self-compassion; remind yourself that you’re not your thoughts, and that the internal critic is just one voice of many.
How you go about silencing your internal critic will vary, and it isn’t for me to offer a path to greater self-compassion (although I can recommend two free articles, one from the Harvard Business Review
and one from The Observer)
However, I can remind you to be aware of your thoughts and be conscious of whether and how negative self-talk is destroying your self-image and sense of self-worth.