Would it surprise you to learn that your worst enemy is probably living inside your own head?
I’m sure you’ve heard of the term ‘inner critic’. In therapy this concept refers to a subpersonality that judges and demeans a person.
We all have an internal voice that talks to us about ourselves.
For many people, this internal voice is quite negative.
If left untamed, it can turn into a constant negative internal commentary on who they are and how they behave - one that can drag them down mentally and emotionally.
Perhaps you can relate to some of these common inner critic statements:
"You’re so stupid."
"You’re so ugly."
"There’s something wrong with you."
“No one cares about you.
“You can’t do it.”
“You should give up.”
One of the most significant steps a person can take towards leading a happier, healthier and more peaceful life is to identify, acknowledge, and tame their inner critic.
Here are the 7 types of critical inner voices that have been identified and the functions they seek to perform in our lives.
This critic tries to get you to do things perfectly. It sets high standards for the things you produce, and stops you putting your work out into the world. It tries to make sure that you fit in and that you won’t be judged or rejected. Its expectations probably reflect those of people who have been important to you in the past.
This critic is stuck in the past. It’s unable to forgive you for wrongs you’ve committed or people you’ve hurt. It’s concerned about relationships and holds you to standards of behaviour prescribed by your community, culture and family. It tries to protect you from repeating past mistakes by making sure you never forget or feel free.
This critic tries to undermine your self-confidence and self-esteem so that you won’t take risks. It makes direct attacks on your self-worth so that you stay small and don’t take chances where you run the risk of being hurt or rejected. It’s afraid that you’ll become too big or too visible and that you won’t be able to tolerate judgment or failure.
This critic makes pervasive attacks on your core self-worth. It shames you and makes you feel inherently flawed, as though you’re not entitled to basic understanding or respect. This is one of the most debilitating inner critics to have, and it comes from deprivation or trauma in early life. It’s motivated by a belief that it is safer not to exist.
This critic tries to get you to fit into a certain mould based on standards held by society, your culture, or your family. It wants you to be liked and admired and wants to protect you from being abandoned, shamed or rejected. The Moulder fears that the rebel or free spirit within you will act in ways that are unacceptable to others. Consequently, it keeps you from being in touch with, and expressing, your true nature.
This critic wants you to work hard and be successful. It fears that you’re mediocre or lazy and that you will be judged a failure if it doesn’t push you to keep going. Its pushing often activates a procrastinator or rebel self that fights against its harsh dictates.
This critic tries to control your impulses: eating, drinking, sexual activity etc. Its biggest fear is that the indulgent part of you will get out of control at any moment. It tends to be harsh and shaming in an effort to protect you from yourself. Its motivation is to make you a good person who is accepted and functions well in society.
For decades, I was plagued by severe Perfectionist, Taskmaster and Moulder inner critics that constantly undermined me. But then I realised what was going on and decided to tackle each of them head-on.
Have you been able to identify your critical inner voice? If so, read on to learn how you can deal with it and restore your inner peace and power.
Step 1: Become Aware
Begin to actively listen out for the negative soundtrack playing in the backdrop of your life. Notice your thoughts and pay attention to your feelings. They will often alert you to the existence of an activated inner critic.
For example, if you’re working on something and all of a sudden you start questioning yourself, feel your energy decreasing, get stuck, bored, anxious or tired, recognise that your inner critic is speaking to you.
Step 2: Listen
Listen to what this harsh side of you is actually saying. What words are being used? What insecurities are being expressed? What are you being warned away from doing?
The inner critic’s self-talk tends to fall into one of two categories: ‘bad self’ and ‘weak self’.
The ‘bad self’ is shamebased. Those who struggle with it may feel unlovable, flawed, undesirable, inferior, inadequate, deserving of punishment and/or incompetent.
The ‘weak self’ is based on fear and anxiety. This type of self-talk may leave a person feeling dependent on others, unable to support themselves, submissive, unable to express emotions without fearing something bad will happen, vulnerable, worried about loss of control, mistrustful, isolated, deprived or abandoned.
Step 3: Empathise
We all know that what we resist, persists, so instead of pushing the inner critic away, embrace it momentarily by identifying with it. Show it some empathy. You could do this, for example, by saying, “I understand you’re terrified of getting hurt and feeling rejected. I know you’re trying to protect me from these feelings, but …”
Step 4: Challenge
Express your feelings and challenge the underlying unhealthy beliefs. You can do this by talking directly to your inner critic.
For example, “You’re not helping … I don’t like it when you talk to me this way … you’re stopping me from getting what I want and need … I’ll be okay … I’ll be able to cope with whatever happens … I CAN do it.”
You’ll have to repeat this step again and again until you eventually silence your inner critic. You’ll also need to continue doing whatever your inner voice was trying to stop you from doing, so that it gets the message loud and clear that you’re not paying any attention to its advice.
If your inner critic is particularly disruptive and acting out, try these simple but effective responses:
So what? So what if you think that? That doesn’t mean it’s true.
Who cares? You think your judgments mean something to me? They don’t!
Big deal! Oh seriously, big deal!
Why not? Why shouldn’t I do this? You’re telling me I can’t? I won’t? I’m not worthy of it? Why not? I’m going to continue doing this anyway, because I can! No matter what you say, I’m just going to keep going.
What if it doesn’t matter if I am……………………or not?
Fill in the critic’s judgment here.
For example, “What if it doesn’t matter if it’s good enough or not?”
“What if it doesn’t matter if it’s beautiful or not, because I’m going to paint this picture anyway, no matter what you say.”
Can you feel how empowering these responses are?
When we relate to the inner critic in this way, we take away its power and regain our own.
This process takes a little effort at the start, but once you begin showing your inner critic who’s boss and that you really don’t care what it’s telling you, it will eventually shut up and go away.
As I’m sure you’ve realised from the descriptions of the different types of inner critic, some issues have their roots deep in your psyche. In these cases, it’s advisable to seek support from a trained professional.
And, if you think it’s not worth making the effort to change, then I’d invite you to think again.
It is important.
As the psychotherapist and author Catherine Cardinal points out:
“Low self-esteem results when the inner critic prevails.”
And we know that low self-esteem is a recipe for unhappiness, poor health, and a lack of well-being.