Understanding your Inner Critic

Do you have a critical inner voice? Our critical inner voice from time to time can cause us to experience nagging thoughts of self- doubt, especially when we decide to push ourselves and try something new. For example: taking on a new challenge, starting a new job, attending to a new task at work or school or asking someone out. While it is normal to have a certain amount of worry when transitioning into something new, for some this internal critical voice can work overtime and is a constant source of criticism and self-doubt. 

The inner critic as it is often known, can hold you back from fully living your life and reaching your potential. In its essence it is a well-integrated pattern of destructive thoughts toward yourself and others. It is an internalised dialogue that you can become a slave to, fostering a distrust of your abilities which in turn limits your goals in life. This internal critical voice can affect every aspect of your life from your career, to your mood and psychological state of mind, to your attitudes about yourself and others, to your personal relationships and your style of relating to others.

Why do we have an inner critic?

The inner critic serves a purpose as it helps us to recognise where we go wrong and what we need to do to set things right. In a healthy sense it is a caring, discerning guide. However, for some people the inner critic can be very loud, scathing, overbearing and constantly fault finding. Some common voices include thoughts like “Your stupid,” “You’re not attractive,” “You’re not like other people.” Some people have voices about their career, like “You’ll never be successful,” No-one appreciates how hard you work.” Many people experience voices about their relationships, such as “He doesn’t really care about you,” Your better off on your own,” or “Don’t be vulnerable, you’ll just get hurt.”

How is the inner critic developed?

These inner voices usually come from early life experiences that are internalised and taken in as ways we think about ourselves. Children are completely dependent on their parents for safety and belonging and therefore will often try to please their parents. Children absorb everything they see and hear and believe everything their parents say, these messages are imprinted on the child and are used by the child to figure out who they are. Primarily our internal dialogue is shaped by our parents, however as children grow they are also influenced by siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers and other adults.

The trap of the inner critic!

Many people think if they stop listening to their inner critic they will lose touch with what is right. However, the inner critic is not a trustworthy moral guide. On the contrary, the critical inner voice is degrading and punishing and often leads us to make unhealthy decisions. These negative voices tend to increase our feelings of self-hatred without motivating us to change undesirable qualities or act in a constructive manner.

How can I overcome my inner critic?

In order to take power over this destructive thought process you must first become aware of your inner voice: what is it telling you and how does it speak to you? To identify this, it is helpful to pay attention to when you suddenly slip into a bad mood or become upset, often these negative shifts in emotion are a result of your inner critic playing in the background. Once you identify the thought process, intensity of the criticism and pinpoint the negative actions it is advocating, you can learn to make friends with your inner critic. The inner critic thinks it is guiding you from feeling vulnerable, however it is misguided and is in fact making you feel insecure and thus more vulnerable. Therefor the antidote to the inner critic is to identify when it is at play, turn the volume down and build your confidence. ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ as Louise Hay coined. With time as your confidence in yourself grows and you create new messages about who you are and your capabilities your inner critic will subside. Learning to be kind to yourself and pushing through negative self- talk is not easy and it takes time. You may even find you need help. If this is the case invest in your future and take some personal growth courses, or spend some time seeing a therapist to understand the origin of your negative self- talk. Recently Neuroscience discovered that a relationship with someone who can supply support and understanding reshapes a person’s neurological possibilities. That is, with the right supportive environment, self-acceptance and change is possible!