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  • Writer's pictureJasmine Dixon

Stop Telling Yourself Off. It Really Doesn't Work.

“Stop being silly!”

“Stop being so emotional!”

“Concentrate harder!”

“Snap out of it!”

“Just be normal!”

“You have to do better than this!”

How many times have we spoken to our self in this way? Adopting the cross, bossy voice that demands improvement and regularly “tells us off” for an inadequate performance. We would rarely speak to others in this tone, yet we think it perfectly acceptable to address our self with such harshness.

“But I am making sure I do better! I tell myself off to stop behaving a certain way!”

Yes, logical. But it does not actually achieve the results we think it does. Studies using fMRI brain imaging have identified that participants who regularly blame, shame, and criticise themselves actually show suppressed activity in areas of the brain responsible for learning and adapting. When these areas are suppressed we struggle to absorb new information or develop a new strategy that will help us to “do better next time”.

This suppression occurs because the negative self-talk triggers the brain’s stress response, causing the release of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol activates the crucial survival areas of the brain and fight-or-flight response, at the expense of other areas of our brain that are instead inhibited.

This means that being cross and critical with ourselves in times of challenge actually inhibits our ability to think around the problem or adapt our behaviour to something more beneficial. Over time, this maintains a vicious cycle:

In order to break this cycle, we simply need to be a little kinder to ourselves.

Practicing self-kindness and encouragement at times of personal challenge increases activity in areas of the brain responsible for attention, learning, and compassion. Using the supportive voice furthermore prevents the stress response from firing, protecting our brains from accidental self-sabotage and increasing our mental performance.

Several studies have observed the long term benefits of practicing self-compassion and mindfulness. Of note, researchers examining the brain structure of Buddhist monks who were regular meditators discovered a trend of cortical thickening in areas of the monks’ brains responsible for learning and compassion. These areas were significantly denser and more developed than the same areas in the brains of non-meditators, and notably denser still than the same areas in the brains of long-term depression and anxiety patients.

In simple terms - thinking with kindness literally grows our brains bigger.

Hypnotherapy utilises positive, affirming, and empowering suggestions to guide the brain to adopt an encouraging and supportive attitude to the self. If you are ready to break the cycle and stop telling yourself off, book an appointment today.

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