Virginia Ironside's Dilemma: The critical voice inside my head

It's all very well your therapist telling you to ignore it, says Virginia, but you may well need a more practical strategy than that

Share

Dear Virginia,

I'm feeling very depressed. I've had a lot of counselling and my therapist says I'm suffering from the presence of a "critical voice". Even though I tell myself I'm successful, have a wonderful husband, two great kids and make lists of all the good things in my life, there's always a voice telling me I'm rubbish, that people are talking about me, that they think I'm stupid. My husband's getting fed up with reassuring me, but I can't seem to get stop constantly putting myself down. Any tips?

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Prue

Virginia says...

Join the club. I’m sure I appear confident to most people, but in my own brain there’s a constant drone saying “You’re an idiot!” “You should be ashamed of yourself” “Who would want you as a friend?” “You’re slimy and underhanded”. After getting your letter I checked with a few friends to see if we were alone and they all told me they have the same critical moan in the background.

It’s no good your counsellor telling you should simply “get rid of” the voice. It doesn’t work like that. My own method, which sometimes works, is trying to accept the voice. Acknowledge it. It wants to be heard, so hear it. But try to listen to it objectively. Is what it is saying really true? Does its message have any more sense in it than the babbling of a crazy person screaming abuse at no one in particular down the street? Try to isolate it. Yes, you have a critical voice. It’s there and it’s loud and cruel. But you are able to evaluate it. Try to think of it as just having some frightful nutter in tow.

Another approach is to ask yourself what function the critical voice performs. Why is its presence useful to you? I suspect that many of us, in our childhoods, felt ignored, abused or abandoned. Because we were tiny and powerless, it was too frightening to vilify our caregivers. We needed them. But our anger at being treated so badly had to come out somewhere. So we attacked ourselves. Instead of our misery being their fault – a situation that makes us feel exceptionally alone and powerless – much easier to decide that it is our own fault. We’re ignored or hated because we’re a bad person. In a way, the critical voice saves us from a dreadful reality – that we felt we were simply not loved or listened to when we were young.

Along with the critical voice often goes, in my experience, an equally unrealistic arrogance. Alcoholics and addicts, who are renownedly assailed by critical voices and use alcohol to drown it out, often describe this as the “His Majesty, the Worm” syndrome. So instead of feeling just like humdrum normal people, we can feel curiously special in our loathsomeness.

I’d ask around your friends and ask them about their critical voices. Once you discover that more people than you imagine are beset with these psychic put-downs, you might be able to live better with yours and regard it not so much as a sage old truth-teller but a mad old relative who evolved, all those years ago, to protect yourself.

Readers say...

Put it on paper

I used to suffer very badly from depression and its companion, low self-esteem, to the extent that I spent six months in a mental hospital in my early  20s – some 40 years ago.

We are all different, of course, but the thing that seemed finally to start me on the road to the happiness I now feel was when, during a bad time 20 years ago, I wrote out my life story in an attempt to understand how I’d reached this point of despair.

In writing it I realised that (unlike some others I’ve encountered) I am kind, generous, caring, supportive, loyal and funny. In other  words, a rather nice person.  It helped enormously.

Sara Neill, by email

Tackle it head on

The voice that you hear is the voice of an adult or elder sibling in your childhood, who belittled you. It has become deeply embedded in you and is affecting your self-esteem. The only way is to confront it head on. Whenever the voice tells you that you cannot, show it that you can. Go do what you feel incompetent to do. If you do this you will beat the voice in the end.

Good luck.

Francis Beswick, by email

Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My partner and I have been together for five years and have a two-year-old daughter. We are extremely happy except for one thing. He has admitted that before we met he was very much in love with a woman who wasn’t interested in him. She has a partner of her own. But even now, they often meet for lunch and have long chats on the phone and I hear them laughing. They email daily. He promises there’s nothing in it and he loves us, but it upsets me. I’ve met her and she seems very nice, but I still feel excluded. Should I insist he give her up?

Yours sincerely,

Gina

What would you advise Gina to do?

Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a £25 voucher  from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf