The client was a woman was in her mid-twenties with the ADHD diagnosis. Her studies were not going well. She was failing courses, not attending classes, not handing in homework, etc. And while she really wanted to do all these things, it was like she couldn’t do it. She was bright, intelligent and loved her studies.
She complained about her insecurities, fear and self hate.
We tried to power up her motivation, so she could do the right things at her school. But it was obvious that there was something else in the way. While working, I had noticed a pattern in the way she moved. Every time she said something positive or expressed hope or any type of direction or goal setting, she would twitch her head ever so slightly forward.
When I mirrored back to her what I saw, and asked what was happening with the head, she started crying.
The young woman realized at that moment what was going on. It was as if her father was standing right behind her, telling her to stop dreaming. And he was giving her a whack on the back of the head every time she had any kind of positivity in her. She could physically feel his presence and the blows to her head.
That was why she had been twitching her head. And that was why she was unable to make any kind of progress that mattered to her in her life.
But how did he make his way into her head like that? And how can you avoid being the source of this kind of negative inner dialogue in your differently wired child’s mind?
The Origin of Negative Inner Dialogue
Inner dialogue is normal and completely healthy. The only reason why it may come across as strange is really that we don’t realize that we all have it – and because we don’t talk about it very much.
We all hear voices in our heads. How ever else can you be thinking: “I wonder how I got my own negative inner dialogue?” Or maybe you’re thinking: “Wow, now it makes sense.” Either way it comes from a voice inside your head.
We normally just call them thoughts.
Negative inner dialogue is what happens when parts of your personality have something to say. Parts of your personality are interesting “creatures” in the sense that they can take on any form or function that it wishes. This means that parts of your personality can literally be a devil and an angel. Most often they are just different expressions of your own younger personality. They can be expressed as important people in your life, and most people have the voices of their mother and father inside their minds.
What you’ll notice is that your thoughts have different qualities when you are excited or sad, when you are proud of yourself or when you are mad at yourself. Those are four different parts of your personality speaking to you in your mind.
Once again, they are normal and part of having a healthy mind. You may want to shut some of them up, but they are really there to help you. They may not be helping you, but they are trying.
So where do they come from?
Imagine being a small girl who just started school. You are a happy girl and you have a rich imagination and you love to share what’s on your mind. You love your mom and dad.
But to other people you come across as unfocused and chatty. You talk a lot – about everything else but homework.
Your dad does not have any insights or tools to help you, so he scolds you, tells you that you are going to be a loser if you don’t focus. To help you focus on your home work, he stands behind you and gives you a gentle whack to bring you back to what’s important. Every time you loose focus!
Every time you have one of those happy thoughts that your imagination serves you!
You hate the experience, and it feels like you are being punished and like you are losing your fathers love. Why else would he be hitting you for doing what you love to do?
So in order for you to avoid being whacked on the back of the head by your dad, you incorporate a “dad” part into your subconscious to help whack you from the inside, – so that your real dad doesn’t have to do it!
This is of course a poor strategy, because the inner as well as the outer whack only comes when you have already lost focus to your imagination. But it helps enough that dad doesn’t hit you anymore, and the coping strategy worked “enough” for you to commit it to the subconscious.
All this happens subconsciously. A mental coping strategy has been created and will continue to “help” the girl as long as she has something to focus on and an imagination that likes to serve up funny things. Which means forever.
Unless you change it. I’ll get back to the changing part. Right now I want you to understand what is going on, and how to avoid causing your child to create a lot of negative inner dialogues.
3 Ways You can avoid being the source of your childs negative inner dialogue
Working with clients they often remember very distinct situations that we the source of the negative inner dialogue. Sometimes these situations were part of the daily ritual, like home work in the client story above.
Your primary job is to steer clear of those situations, and find ways to express your values in action in the kindest and most accepting way.
- Stop Scolding You Child
- It’s not a bug surprise that scolding is not only ineffective, but also harmful in the long run. Stop it. Acknowledge that he is really trying his very best, even when it doesn’t look and feel like it. He doesn’t have good mental strategies for handling the situation *yet*.
- Then start working with your child instead of against your child. When you give your child a full voice, he’ll be able to hear yours as well. And you’ll be surprised at how good he soon becomes at finding solutions when he realizes that you listen. It’s called the coaching approach that you can learn in Transformational Parenting.
- Don’t Blame Your Child
- Do you ever ask “Why …?” questions? They are received universally as a personal attack and as a way of throwing blame around. Start there. Don’t ask why questions. Don’t look for reasons. Accept that he has a positive intention that drives him – and that you don’t understand it *yet*.
- Instead look for motivation. What was your child trying to make happen? What was he hoping that would happen? Then listen and find ways to help him understand the situation and/or make the right things happen in a better way.
- Never Degrade Your Child
- When a parent degrades a child by name-calling or letting the child know that it’s a failure in the parent’s eyes, it sticks to the child’s self worth like lint to velcro. It takes forever to get off.
- Instead find ways to uplift your child’s self worth in every way possible. Not only by praise, but primarily by letting your child know that you see him, you love him for who he is, and that you understand that he is trying his very best. Help him keep trying and be motivated by trying even when it’s not working.
What if the damage is already done?
Since you are reading this article on this homepage, the damage is most likely already done. Very few will be able to help their complex child grow into a harmonious young person without getting irritated, frustrated or angry. And most likely words have been said, that were regretted moments later.
All that makes an impact on the child. And we’ve all done it.
I can see it on my daughters. In fact some of their patterns we can trace back to very distinct situations. And we are confident that we’ll be able to help them get through those patterns and build very constructive patterns to substitute for the old ones as they grow older and more aware and conscious.
Becoming aware that damage is being done is the first step.
The second sted is to understand that there are thousands of parts to every personality. Most of them are just fine or even great.
We want more of the great ones, so the third step is to start helping the child produce supporting, motivating, uplifting, powerful parts that will eventually help the child succeed in life.
Creating Positive Inner Dialogue
Positive inner dialogue is created just like negative inner dialogue. By exposure to positive reinforcement from people who really mean it. And for the child to understand that this is special.
You can think of parts creation as something that mostly happens when the child is in a new situation, a surprising situation or some other situation that will stick in their memory. You might be able to think back on some of the pivotal moments in your life, those moments that were course corrections in your life.
Those are the ones that you want to create.
When I got down on my knees with my girl (who had lied to me), looked her in the eyes, and told her with power in my voice that I loved it when she told me the truth, – in that moment – I am positive that she created a part of her personality that sets the truth to a high standard.
I could see the shift in her eyes – and in her behavior afterwards.
Transforming Inner Dialogue
Negative Inner Dialogue, like Positive Inner Dialogue, is a subconscious coping strategy. The problem is that this particular coping strategy is no longer working correctly.
We normally don’t *just* change and transform our subconscious coping strategies. Of course we normally don’t *just* change any of our coping strategies, – that’s why there are thousands of books written on the subject.
But through conscious work, with the power of externalization and metaphors, which I have written about here and here, we can transform even the most evil, condescending, depleting, self hating inner dialogues.
If you have a child with negative inner dialogue, and you are interested in getting the insights and tools to help your child, then read through the archive of articles, – or get on the mailing list so you know when my new course Transformational Parenting is out.
To start helping your child produce positive inner dialogue, start by figuring out what that inner dialogue should be saying.
Then start embodying the quality of that inner dialogue in your own actions and interactions with your child.
And when the child embody the quality, make sure that you make it absolutely clear that you value your child and his actions. So clear that he will never forget the moment, when you let him know that the part of him that creates this kind of behavior is fantastic.
And when he exhibits the opposite traits, find a way to honor the parts of him that are struggling to do the right thing.
What parts of your child will you be bringing out?
Let me know in the comments!
And do share this article on social media, if you found it valuable.
Have a great day,