Mind Control: How We Can Challenge Our Negative Inner Monologues


"You look like a middle-aged blob in that outfit. Please stop talking – no one is listening and no one finds you funny. You are utterly hopeless at staying on top of your life. Look at that pile of paperwork, and the dishes in the sink. Do you know any other adults who would let things get into that state? You are a terrible mother, a nagging wife, a very poor writer and I'm not sure God considers you a Christian."

Those are actual words said to me over the last week.

Who would ever talk that way? Who could possibly be so nasty, demeaning and unkind to a fellow human being? Well, I have to put my hand up. I said those things to myself, and what's more, I listened to them.

They made me feel terrible, as you might imagine. They didn't rouse me to greater productivity. They didn't inspire me to reach for a higher standard or to love God and people more expansively. They didn't do anything other than punch holes in my sense of self and make me want to stuff my face with cake and hide under my duvet.

I know I'm not the only one to struggle with a destructive inner monologue. Many of us are our own worst enemies, allowing a constant stream of negativity to run through our minds unchallenged. And there are consequences. As anyone familiar with the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) knows, negative thoughts lead to negative feelings lead to negative behaviour. Our thoughts matter. What we say to ourselves is vitally important. So here are a few strategies to help us win the battle of the mind when it comes to self-sabotage:

1. Be disciplined and proactive

We don't need to sit back and take the insults. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, we have spiritual weapons with "divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). The Holy Spirit is with us in this monumental struggle to transform our minds, and we have ever chance of winning.

2. Fight back with the greater truth

I've found there is really very little point arguing specifics with the negative self-talk. Most of the horrid things I say to myself are at least partly true: I could do with losing some weight. Not everyone does find me funny. My pile of paperwork has got a bit out of hand. So I shield myself with greater truths: I am a child of the Most High God. He loves me more than I will ever know. In his eyes I am precious, utterly valuable and made pure and holy by his son. I am also loved by my family and my friends. I know this because they tell me and they have shown me in a million ways large and small throughout my life. I feed myself with these greater truths by reading the Bible on a regular basis, and by spending time in the company of people who like me.

3. Be nice

Brene Brown, best known for her TED talk on vulnerability, says: "Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love." Before we can love anyone else we must love ourselves. And this means being kind, forgiving, encouraging, supportive, long-suffering, hopeful and just plain old nice to ourselves. So when we find ourselves saying, "Shut up you stupid cow," the correct response is not to apologise meekly and shut up, but to say calmly but firmly, "We don't talk to ourselves like that round here, thank you."

Mind control takes work. It can be absolutely exhausting remaing vigilant in your own head. But the effort is worth it. When we speak kindly to ourselves, we flourish, we grow and we are free to be the beloved, unique, flawed but beautiful creations of a loving God that we are.