Taming Your Inner Critic
What if you fail?
What if nobody likes you?
You are stupid.
Why are you so different?
You will never be happy.
If these statements and questions sound familiar then it’s the loud “voice” of your inner critic. We all possess an inner critic or an inner bully and we experience this “voice” as a negative inner commentary on who we are and how we behave. Why are you so different is a statement I constantly hear from my inner critic and one that comes up from my past. The critical inner voice is often formed from painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves. This often manifests in the form of projection, defensiveness or transference. When we fail to identify and separate from this inner critic, we allow it to impact our behaviour and shape the direction of our lives.
Here’s the truth: The critic doesn’t speak the truth. The reality is that so much of the critic lives up in our head. It’s not the truth and it’s so important to replace that inner bully voice with the wise, kind and empowering words. This means treating ourselves with the same kind of compassion and devotion we offer other people.
Taming the inner critic: One of the best ways to tame our inner critic and cultivate this habit of self-love and healthy thoughts is to look inside and find our inner coach, captain or leader. Our inner coach is a wiser, supportive, motivating voice that exists within all of us. Unlike the inner critic, you’ll find that your inner coach is the one who speaks to you kindly yet firmly, compassionately and wisely. Your inner coach can be male or female - someone who inspires you and wants the best from you - a parent, a friend, your dog, an aunt, a teacher or a character from a book. The inner coach offers guidance, reassurance and emotional support rather than criticising or being negative. The coach sets firm limits that support our health and wellbeing. Once you really listen and look, the distinction between your inner coach and your inner critic will become very clear to you.
Finding your inner coach is the first step toward self-love and cultivating healthy thoughts. Your inner coach will teach you how to have a good relationship with yourself. That means swapping the unhealthy, irrational thoughts – “I’m not good enough. I’m such a loser. Why can’t I get anything right” to healthy ones that genuinely help you grow and reach your potential.
Once you find your inner coach, he/she can work with you on shifting your unhealthy thinking styles to healthy ones. Here are a few:
Rational Thinking – This is a very powerful healthy thinking style. It's creating thoughts based on evidence and facts. For example - “Just because I made a typo in my presentation, doesn’t mean I’ll get a poor review. I can’t tell the future.”
Compassion – A style of thought that has empathy for the context, thoughts and feelings of yourself or others. “Given today’s circumstances, I’m doing the best I can. I’m going to be kind to myself.”
Gratitude – Noticing and appreciating what’s good and right in every situation. “I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to learn from this problem.”
Optimism – Thoughts based on identifying the best-case scenario. “Yes, I’m on a budget and can’t stay in a fancy place. I can still have the most amazing holiday and create those incredible memories.”
Growth Mindset- This is a thinking style that shows us that imperfection is a sign of growth, learning and development and that effort counts. “I’m not where I want to be, but I’m getting so much better. If I work harder, I’m sure I’ll improve tremendously.”
Grey is Good – This is the opposite of Black or White/All or Nothing Thinking. The Grey thinking style is when can see both sides of a situation. “I didn’t get invited to her Birthday party. We are not as close as we used to be, but that doesn’t mean she hates me.”
Flexible – Letting go of rules/should/musts and cultivating preferences. “I prefer to have my coffee first thing in the morning but if that doesn’t happen its OK.”
When we are more confident in our own choices, and focus on healthy thinking styles, we can calm that bully voice and say: You know, that’s not real. That’s a fear-based voice. And instead say:
I am capable.
I can do this.
I am ready.
This is a much more empowering place to be. By identifying, separating from, and acting against this destructive thought process, we can grow stronger, while our inner critic grows weaker.
Exercise: Keeping a journal can be great for our emotional health and wellbeing. Writing down our thoughts can help us gain clarity. It helps us recognise the voice of the inner critic and the inner coach and allows us to take action to shift the voice from a negative to a more positive one. Even a few lines every day will make a massive difference.
Strengths-based work and positive psychology interventions are a key part of positive psychology coaching. For more on resilience building, posttraumatic growth and wellbeing, do get in touch.