The inner critic, that little nagging voice (or perhaps bullying voice) in our head that loves to do everything it can to demean us, steal our joy, minimize accomplishments, and generally keep us from ever feeling good about who we are and what we’re doing.
Psychology Today writer, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. outlines it quite nicely: The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others. When we fail to identify and separate from this inner critic, we allow it to impact our behavior and shape the direction of our lives. It may sabotage our successes or our relationships, preventing us from living the lives we want to lead and becoming the people we seek to be.*
As a survivor of trauma, and someone who is a recovering anxiety sufferer, that inner critic has been like the little devil on my shoulder for as long as I can remember. On the one side you have the “angel”, or light side that wants me to embrace and celebrate something positive in my life, but that pesky voice of doom and despair wants me to have no parts of celebrating anything good that I’ve done.
Of course it doesn’t just stop at accomplishments, that inner critic will find a way to insert a “yeah but” into any good thing in your life; a compliment someone gives you, a healthy choice that you’ve made, a new and exciting relationship, you name it. If it’s good, your inner critic will try to convince you that somehow, some way, it’s not as good as you think, or it won’t last.
So what do we do about it?
There are many, many ways to silence or otherwise deal with your own inner critic. The ways that I mention here are presented with the idea is that each and every technique has merit and usefulness only if it works for you. So with that awareness, we can surmise that even if something may not work for you, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work at all. (black and white thinking right there my friend, another tactic of your inner critic and anxiety).
So let’s look at 3 ways that I’ve had varying degrees of success with both in my own life and with clients.
Restructure the inner critic voice:
- Change your thoughts so that the inner critic shows up differently.
- What does the voice sound like? Loud, soft, stern, nagging? Who’s voice does it sound like?
- Change the volume of the voice until you no longer hear it…same with tone, rate of speech, pitch, etc. This can lead to a different experience with your critic.
- Consider changing where the voice is coming from in your head..move it around to the front, side, or the back – How does that affect the power of the critic?
The idea here is that if your inner critic has a normal tone and way that it communicates with you, change it around and you may notice that it’s suddenly effective. For example, if your inner critic has tone that is very demanding and overwhelming, try changing that voice to a softer, less invasive tone. Perhaps change it to a squeaky little cartoon voice. Something you don’t take so seriously and are more able to shrug off or not pay attention too…laugh at even!
Separate and Ignore your inner critic:
- Label the voice…give it a name. I call mine a “bully”, but yours can be anything you want. Whatever it is or sounds like, label it and call it out in that way.
- Take a step back from it; get outside of the real-time, emotional state it’s trying to get you in. In NLP we call this “dissociate”. (which is different from the clinical definition of dissociation). In other words, try taking a 3rd person point of view, or seeing yourself from across the room as you experience the inner critic at work…the difference is that you can see this unfold with an unbiased, neutral vantage point. Therefore, no judgment, no emotional moment to work through.
- Move on; distract and do something else.
Example: If your inner critic is telling you that you are going to fail at this new job, you likely tell yourself, “I’m going to fail at this job, I’ll never make it”. So instead of whole heartedly embracing that voice and applying it to yourself immediately, try separating yourself from it and reframe it to “my inner critic is telling me that I am going to fail”.
We are more prone to believe it when we reference it as ourselves, so if we step back out of the moment, we then have some space to see it for what it really is or is not. Then, you can analyze and decide for yourself how much power your critic should have, and move on to something else, thus reinforcing the stripping of power that you just took from it. The main key is, make sure that you distract and move on…as with many other techniques, after you’ve worked through it, go do some self-care and put your attention elsewhere.
Make an Alliance with your inner critic:
One of the presuppositions of NLP is that, “behind every behavior, there is a positive intention. For the purposes of this information, we’ll assume that is true (because not everyone believes that, and that’s okay).
So if every behavior has a positive intention, then perhaps that means that your inner critic also has a positive intention, even if it’s methods do not appear to be uplifting and healthy. Consider this approach:
- Embrace it, don’t see it as a negative. Take out of it what’s useful and leave the rest.
- Learn the positive intention of the inner critic and find new ways to achieve it.
- Perhaps if you take a step back and see what your inner critic is trying to show you, it may be trying to motivate you, or to protect you from something or someone.
- When you ask what the intention is, be sure and wait for the answer. Sometimes doing so makes it go away on its own.
- You may get a positive intention and you can actually agree with that intention and use it to your advantage.
- Then you have to ask the critic: are you willing to motivate me without criticizing me and bringing me down?
- By doing so, you have essentially made an alliance with the very thing that you thought was holding you back.
The important part here is that you understand that take what is useful and empowering and leave the rest.
Again, not every technique works for every person, and this is only a sampling of the ways that you can work with your inner critic. I encourage you to consider trying them out and see how they work for you? If you’d like more information about working with your inner critic, just contact me!
Matthew Pappas, CLC
The content in this post is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for physical or mental health treatment or counseling.
*Source – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201305/4-ways-overcome-your-inner-critic