1. What is an inner critic and why is it harmful
An inner critic is a voice in your head that constantly criticizes you. It tells you terrible things, such as negatively evaluates something you have done, or saying that you will not be able to cope with a task. It can be really annoying.
I have often said to myself in the past, “You idiot!” “You slouch!” “I’m so stupid”. Then I mentally reprimanded myself for the behaviour, statement or a mistake. It wasn’t once a day, but many, many times a day and every day. Often while looking at myself in the mirror, I noticed imperfections and wrinkles and told myself that I was ugly and looking old. Or I criticized myself for every fold of fat and too big belly! These are just a few of dozens if not hundreds of examples from my life. I am not sharing, of course, the vulgar terms that also belonged to this dictionary. Many of my clients have told me that they tell themselves – in the voice of this inner critic – that they are stupid, that they are useless, that they are ugly.
Most people – at least brought up in Western civilization – hear this voice many times a day every day. And you are probably used to it and you consider it normal. Meanwhile, it consumes a lot of energy, makes life difficult and, in addition, is harmful. It effectively decreases your self-esteem and self-confidence, worsens your well-being, in the worst case leading to depression as well as it inhibits your growth.
2. Types of inner critic
The critic most often appears in two situations:
After Action – When he even critics small details that he thinks was a complete failure. He may literally attack you for what you did or didn’t do, but in his opinion you should have done. What did you say (or how) or what you did not say. Or how you behaved (inadequate to the situation, of course). And it doesn’t matter that objectively everything was ok. He will always find something, where he can pick holes and throw awful epithets at you. Additionally, it is like a broken record and repeats these insults for long time and frequently. Sometimes he can even focus on something from the distant past and make your life unpleasant with unpleasant comments about it.
Please note, there is nothing wrong with noticing and admitting that, for example, you made a blunder (it happens to everyone) or made a mistake (a normal thing in life). The purpose of this would be then only to consider how you can behave differently in the future to avoid such situations. And then forget about the whole event. But there is no reason why – even for a greater mistake or even failure – anyone should offend you! Even your inner voice!
Before acting – when this voice demotivates you by slogans like: you can’t do it, give it up, it’s not for you. You are too stupid, dumb, not educated enough, etc. These are real examples, and they are not the most drastic of those that I have heard in my head, or that my clients reported. This voice can appear every time you want to take on a new task, but it can also accompany you before your daily activities. My client had heard such criticism every time she was about to drive. She had had a driving license for several years, drove fairly smoothly, but was literally paralyzed by a critic when she was about to get behind the wheel, who was telling her that she was such a poor driver that she would cause an accident. Not only was it not pleasant, but it could also be dangerous because it limited concentration very much.
3. How to recognize if you have an inner critic
As I mentioned earlier, most likely, unfortunately, this critic accompanies you in your head. However you may not be fully aware of it, because you’ve gotten so used to it that it’s completely normal. Likewise, you don’t feel the back of your head all the time. It’s there, but it’s only when you think about it, focus on it, or touch it that you know you really there is the back of your head all the time. It can be similar with this voice – you do not notice it, or maybe you are not aware of it to some extent. Unfortunately, even in this case, it still has a negative influence on you.
However, until you become aware of its existence, you will not be able to counteract it, and it will continue to weaken you systematically.
So I would like to invite you to observe your internal dialogue for a few days. What does it consist of. Surely you are creating an action plan in your head, maybe you are practicing some important conversation, maybe you are dreaming or remembering a recent vacation or a success story. Perhaps you even have a moment of silence?
But are there also thoughts that judge you negatively and insult you? How often and in what situations do they appear? How harmful are they? Whose voice is this? You recognised him – this is the inner critic.
If you are unable to capture these moments on your own, ask a trusted person if they have noticed how you talk about yourself in different situations. Maybe they picked up on statements you often repeat like, “It’s obvious I couldn’t find the keys again. I am a mess! ” Or “I poured coffee again. I’m so clumsy! ” A close friend of mine, when something goes wrong, says aloud to herself, “I’m stupid!” And another, every time she stains her clothes a little while eating, says: “I am like a pig, I can’t even eat without getting dirty!” Well, honestly: everyone spills something, gets stained or breaks a dish from time to time! It doesn’t mean we’re hopeless! It just means we’re not perfect. And very well! A world full of perfect people would be terrible!
It can be distressing to be aware of and hear your inner criticism, but this is the first step to getting rid of it and regaining a huge amount of energy and self-esteem. So I encourage you to do this self-examination.
4. Reasons of an inner critic
The genealogy of internal critic may vary from person to person. But mostly it is related to two areas:
– inner critic is often a habit taken over from the outside world. When from early childhood we often hear criticism of others (parents, teachers, caregivers, other adults from the milieu, e.g. a doctor), our mind takes over this activity and begins to do it on its own. It just learns to criticize. Just as it learned various other social behaviours by observing your surroundings. Notice if this voice is repeating phrases that were used by your childhood critics (parents, teachers, guardians, coaches). The development of the critic could also be supported by the frequent comparison of the child to other children, most often in a negative way.
– The internal critic can also be a defense mechanism. Its source may be, for example, fear of rejection, mistake or criticism. And this, in turn, may be due to some internal, unhealed wound from childhood, or a feeling of not being enough, which also stems from childhood. Perhaps it would be a good idea to look at it and fix the problem at its source. Or maybe this inner voice wants to motivate you to prepare more thoroughly for action? Unfortunately, it goes about it in a very bad way, because criticism demotivates.
This voice can also be a hint for you that something needs to be improved, e.g. in behaviour or action. And of course, such tips – as I mentioned earlier – are valuable. Except the way your inner critic brings your attention to it is inappropriate. Because instead of motivating you to work on change, it makes you want to forget about everything as soon as possible.
5. Tools to support the process of silencing the inner critic:
As I mentioned earlier, the internal critic is a habit. And habits can be changed or eliminated. You will probably need mindfulness, patience and some time (only the last point is very quick) as it is usually the case with changing habits. To help you with this process, you can use various tools, a few of which are listed below.
a. Habit to analyse the situation
The idea is to limit the criticism and thus keep its negative impact to a minimum. To do this, follow the steps below:
Step 1: Hear the critic: Learn to notice him whenever he appears and to recognize his voice. See when he comes out and think about his role in specific situations. Observe what words he uses and which voice it is. Consider its origin.
Step 2. Tell him to stop. If he is speaking in your voice, firmly say “stop.” And if he uses the voice of someone from the past, see that you are independent and that this person no longer has any influence on you. Note that now this person no longer has an advantage, their opinion is not relevant anymore. You can imagine the person and tell them to shut up.
Step 3. Verify if this voice is correct. Consider whether this criticism is actually adequate or whether it is rather unfair and harmful. Would you criticize your friend in a similar situation? Certainly not. You probably wouldn’t express such criticism even against your worst enemy! Would your friend criticize you? Think what she would say to you in this situation. I think it would rather be words of support and understanding.
Step 4. In any case check, what are the intentions of this voice? Maybe he wants to show you something, warn you about something? When you discover the motives for the appearance of criticism, use it as an indication for positive change.
Step 5. Be sure to reformulate this criticism into a positive thought. The way it will be healthy for you, supportive, consistent with the facts, and adequate to the situation. Without unnecessary negative epithets.
Step 6. In case, after going through these steps, the situation is still bothering you, make an appointment with someone you trust who will help you see things differently and support you.
An example from my life: I broke the bowl. The dialogue begins: you are a shit! Why didn’t you pay more attention. You’re still breaking something. If it goes on like this, there won’t be any dishes in the house. Etc.
Step 1: I notice it and
Step 2: I say stop.
Step 3: I check if what I have said in my mind is actually adequate. Is not. I broke the bowl. You can buy a new one. Besides, I have a lot of bowls. No one has been hurt by shells. It’s just an object and it can happen to anyone. I think what a friend would say: “Let it go.” And she would help me to clean up.
Step 4: Checking the voice’s intentions – they are good. It wants to tell me: slow down, you are doing too much at once because you have too many tasks. Somebody should help you.
Step 5: Change dialogue: I broke the bowl. Nothing big happened. Something’s just broken and it needs to be cleaned up. I have a lot of other bowls so far, I don’t need to spend any money. Everyone breaks something sometimes. It is some time ago I last broke a dish. I do too many tasks at once. I will ask my children to help me set up the table. Everything is ok. I’m ok.
b. Positive affirmations: Change your internal dialogue and say positive and beautiful things to yourself. Motivating and supportive sentences. Similar, what you would tell your friend. Talk to yourself often as if you were your best supportive friend!
c. Applying praise: Be your own cheerleader, praise everything you do in your life.
d. Lower the bar: Try to reduce the high expectations of yourself: you can’t always be perfect, no one is perfect. I can assure you that everyone makes mistakes. Start noticing it – not to make fun of someone, but to realize that others are not perfect either. Example: For a long time I had a problem to speak publicly in English. But since I started noticing that even skilled speakers make grammar mistakes or forget a word, I let go and now speaking English in public is much easier. Become an observer of other people’s mistakes to realize that everyone is like that.
e. Take it easy: Note that most people are primarily concerned with themselves. How they have been seen by others. It just is. And this implies that others probably didn’t even notice that you made a mistake, and even if they did, they forgot about it right away, preoccupied with themselves. And even if there are people who are dissatisfied with your achievements, know that you will never be able to please everyone. There will always be someone who has a different opinion. So stop stressing, do your job and let it go.
f. Accept mistakes. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Make friends with mistakes, failures, blunders.
g. Help of an expert. Hypnotherapy session or transformational recording (NLP) available on this website should quickly and for good remove this unfriendly voice from your head.
The inner critic has been with you for a very long time. It may be not easy to change it right away. Take the time to use the tools above. Choose 1-2 strategies to start with and implement them consistently in your life. Over time, you will certainly manage to soften his statements and maybe even remove him from life for good. I have succeeded and many of my clients have done it, so I know it is possible. Good luck.
This article is the result of the „Wider Horizons” project, implemented by Development Support Foundation Innovator.
Project is co-financed by the European Union under Erasmus + Programme. (KA1 – Learning mobility of individuals, Mobility of adult education staff, Agreement No. 2020-1-PL01-KA104-079945).
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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