Tone of our Inner Talk

Last week I discussed the drive system and how to connect more with the soothing system and caring for your self at a time of stress. One of the key things in the Radical Self Care Course I’m currently on is to notice ‘tone to self‘ – asking “what is my inner tone?” as I notice my self talk. It is not always possible to change the outer circumstances of my life but I do have agency over how I talk to myself and the tone of this inner talk.

The invitation each week in the course is to consider how I would talk to a friend and bring this same care and affirmative words to my own experience. Say I notice I’m feeling sad. Rather than a harsh tone that judges me for it, instead I can connect with a way of talking to myself that encourages a kinder tone, saying something like: “this is sadness, it hurts to feel like this” instead of “pull yourself together” or some similar judgemental inner talk. I might then reflect on the shared nature of humanity to have these core emotions: “I’m not alone with this sadness, so many other humans right now are feeling just as I do” and then bring some kindness to myself through touch.

If it were in public this might be as simple as resting one had on my forearm or belly. At home it might be more of a self-hug, holding myself with both hands, or bringing some gentle massage to my face or body to give a sense of comfort. Self care might extend to taking a bath, going for a walk, dancing etc, as discussed in last week’s email.

It can feel self-indulgent to adopt a kind tone to oneself. But if this is how you would talk to your friend, why not also to yourself? And why do we think it is honest and authentic to have the harsh inner tone that we so often accept as normal? “You idiot”, “When will I ever learn”, “I can’t get anything right”…… Would we say this to a friend who is hurting: “you idiot”, “When will you ever learn?”, “When will you ever get anything right?” Of course not. Why then do we feel ok to talk to ourselves in this harsh and judgemental tone?


As you go through your week, notice this inner tone. Is the voice in your head kind, supportive and encouraging? Or does it take on an annoyed, peevish and judgemental tone? As you notice this consciously change the tone. If you are in pain, think of how you wold talk to a good friend and see how it is to talk to yourself in this way: “This hurts, and yes, I know it feels horrible, but I’m here for you, I care for you”. If you do something well, see how it is to give yourself a compliment! See how it is to say “Well done” to yourself! In the way you would celibate a friend’s achievement.

It’s often said we are born alone and we die alone. But in fact we have one person who is with us our whole life – ourself. Will that person be kind, loving and supportive, or judgemental, harsh and petulant? If part of our inner world can be the split off critic and tyrant, then why not have a kind and supportive inner dynamic as well to counter it? After all, who is it that is saying to you “you idiot”….if you were just the idiot there would only be a numb sense of things not going well, but instead there is a sense of a separate ‘observer’ in our head commenting on what we do. So why not let this observer be compassionate and supportive!


How can we develop this skill?

  1. The Compassionate Mind Training and Imagery exercisesloving kindness meditation and self-compassion practices can all lay the foundation.
  2. It can also be useful to write down negative thinking patterns in one column and in the other to write compassionate kind reframing thoughts.
  3. The self-compassion break is an excellent 5 minute practice to develop this skill.
  4. A practice I like to do is to start with soothing breathing rhythm, follow with compassion meditation or imagery and then spend 5-10 minutes flowing through different compassionate thoughts. These might be focused on a challenge that I am facing or just general self-acceptance and encouragement. I acknowledge the fact that we all have ‘tricky brains’ and are doing our best and then I create a compassionate inner coach to encourage me with compassionate self-talk.
  5. Barbara Fredrickson has a lovely practice called narrating your day with kindness and acceptance or as I like to call it ‘narrating your day in a kind way’. Take a few hours, a morning or a whole day and see if you can make your internal self-talk be kind, encouraging and accepting.
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