Many of us have a little voice in our head with a running commentary of our lives. “I have to pick up the dry-cleaning today,” “I wonder what the weather is like.” “Ugh – I missed the turn.” This inner voice can sometimes be mean, especially on days when you’re not feeling good. “You forgot your appointment again – you can’t do anything right!” “Why even bother going to work if you’re going to fail anyway.” For some of you, this mean voice is constantly around, blabbering hurtful things to you. “You’re such a screw up!” “Nobody loves you!”
As you can imagine, it doesn’t feel good to hear these things. If this voice were coming from someone sitting right beside you whispering these awful things in your ear, you may tell it to “Shut up!” or say, “You can’t talk to me like that!” And yet, we speak to ourselves in this manner. This voice is what some call the Inner-Critic.
The Inner-Critic can derive from various sources – an overly-protective or overly-critical parent, a judgmental friend or loved-one, or even from a culmination of traumatic events that lead you to believe you are somehow defective. Regardless of where this voice comes from, we make a subconscious choice to listen to it, and therefore, allow it to dictate our thoughts and actions.
Those whose lives are dictated by their inner-critic are likely to feel scared or worried about others and the world, sad over believing there is something wrong with them, hopeless about the future, and powerless for feeling they have no control. People often say the reason they listen to their inner-critic is because it is protecting them from danger. Though this may be true at times, we begin to rely on this voice to help us cope with our problems. Listening to the critic, then, makes us more fearful of the world, and we perceive ourselves as being incapable of facing life’s challenges. It is important to distinguish between a voice that motivates you to achieve your goals, and one that puts you down.
So how does one effectively respond to their inner-critic? Here are some helpful steps:
- Catch it Red-Handed!
Before we can begin to respond to the inner-critic, we need to be aware of when the critic is around. One way to identify its presence is when you catch yourself using statements like “I should, “I always” or “I never.” These are examples of all-or-nothing thinking and a tactic that the inner-critic can sometimes use to put you down. Another tactic is name-calling, such as in the example above: “You’re such a screw up!”
- “Shut Up!”
Once you have identified the voice of the inner-critic, one solution could be to simply tell the voice to “Shut up!” “Go away!” or “I don’t believe you.” By doing so, you are actively taking charge of your thoughts and allowing you an opportunity to listen to other voices that could be more helpful.
- Challenge your Inner-Critic:
Sometimes, simply telling the voice to “Shut up” isn’t enough. During these times, it may be helpful to challenge the voice, to poke holes in its arguments, and call its bluff. For instance, an example of all-or-nothing thinking is “You’re always late for work.” Though this may be true at times, examine how accurate that statement is. Believing such a statement can make it difficult for you to recognize the times when you have done things right. One way to challenge it may be to say “Sometimes I am early for work.” or “I do my best to make it on time.”
There are other unhelpful thinking styles that many of us engage it. To review a more thorough list of these thinking patterns, follow this link. To explore some questions to help you challenge them, follow this link.
- The Compassionate Voice:
Once the inner-critic has been disarmed, and now you now have a chance to listen to other voices, begin to speak to the Compassionate Voice. This voice is often that of your loyal friend who is there to empower you no matter how badly you mess up. “You’re doing the best that you can.” “You will get through this.” “You’ve had a really rough few years, you are allowed to be sad.” “You have solved problems in the past, you can do it again.” Other ways to activate the compassionate voice may be by asking the following questions:
- If your best friend was going through this, what would you say to him/her?
- Are there other ways to look at this situation?
- What would your cheerleader say?
Following these steps can be a helpful way to being to learn to start to respond to your inner-critic. If you find yourself continuing to struggle, it may be helpful to gain support from a therapist to understand the inner workings of your critic and learning tactical strategies to beat it. Although these are steps you can practice on your own, through counselling you could undergo a deeper exploration to identify the source of your inner-critic.
Shezlina Haji, MA, has extensive experience in the area of emotional regulation, personal growth, plus many more. For more information on Shezlina and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.