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Harsh Internal Language

Speaking harshly to yourself takes its toll on you.  Harsh self-criticism or inner "should's" can leave you feeling depressed and disconnected with the impulse to withdraw or lash out or both.  As you engage in mindfulness and meditation practice you might notice layers and layers of harsh internal language.  You might wonder if meditation is making it worse, it may certainly seem that way.

Becoming aware of harsh internal language is an important first step in its transformation. However, it can be quite painful and exasperating to see a source of suffering without yet having a way out.  At this stage it's easy to doubt that becoming more aware of your inner experience is helpful.  Hanging in there with yourself during this stage is well worth the freedom and relief that comes when you access agency regarding how you speak to yourself.

As you walk this journey of transforming harsh internal language, three things are essential to remember.  1) How you speak to yourself is a habit.  2)  Under harsh language are universal needs.  3)  Harsh internal language is a form of reactivity.

Speaking to yourself in a certain way is a habit.  Like any habit, the more you can interrupt it and do something else, the less momentum it has.  The tricky thing is that unlike physical habits, verbal habits have the pull of language and thus the illusion of meaning.  A focused and attentive mind is needed to avoid the trap of noticing the harsh internal language and then believing it, arguing with it, or trying to appease it.  Thus, the practice of interrupting harsh internal language and replacing it with a supportive internal habit, is best done during meditation.

The second thing to remember is that everything you ever do is a strategy to nourish your needs or, in other words, engage authentically with the flow of aliveness.  Harsh internal language is an example of a tragic strategy in that it doesn't effectively meet needs or bring you into connection with life.  Nevertheless, it arises from the wholesome impulse to move towards life.  If you are able to detach enough from the literal meaning of those harsh words you have space to tend to the aliveness underneath.  This means getting connected to the specific universal need under each bit of harsh self-speak. Empathy from another is helpful for identifying these needs.  Often just naming the universal need brings a sense of relief through self-connection.  

Next, with mindful contemplation of those needs you will commonly find that they aren't actually threatened or unmet.  It is often the misperception of threat, that triggers the onslaught of harsh internal language.  If a particular need is truly unmet, you are free to engage strategies to tend to that need that are effective.  

With practice, you will likely find that the same two to five universal needs appear again and again.  Having "translated" your harsh inner dialogue into the universal needs, you are less likely to be caught by the content and will more easily and quickly move your attention to the needs themselves enabling you to choose a skillful response.

Lastly, it is essential to remember that harsh internal language is a form of reactivity and reactivity escalates in the absence of physio-social-emotional regulation.  In other words, consistent self-care in physical, social, and emotional realms helps to prevent reactivity.  Physically you likely have a clear sense of how to maintain consistent well-being through healthy food, supportive exercise, and sufficient sleep.  Social self-care means having daily interactions with others that are supportive.  This might include a simple exchange of greetings, a wave and smile to your neighbor, or small talk on the train to work.  Emotional self-care means receiving and offering empathy, encouragement, acknowledgment, and appreciation.  As a regular part of each day.

With patience, perseverance, and practice you can cultivate internal language that is clear and supportive.


Take a moment now to translate one harsh thing you have said to yourself into the feelings and needs under it.


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4 Responses

  1. Nov 02, 2017

    Thankyou so much for connecting NVC and these harsh voices -

  2. Nov 02, 2017
    Jackie Porter

    LaShelle, this Gem was so very helpful. This is a hard habit to change but I am still working on it.
    Best wishes and love,

  3. Nov 02, 2017

    Thank you both for your feedback, I am honored to contribute.

  4. Nov 04, 2017

    Your welcome, good to hear from you Brenda :)

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