"It’s not like anyone is going to read your useless garbage anyway,” my inner critic tells me. Damn, that dude is mean. I’m just trying to write a decent article here.
How does your inner critic treat you? Does it stop you from doing what you want? Does it cripple your ability to move forward?
Here’s how to deal with the phenomenon of having a bully in your head:
What the Inner Critic Is
The inner critic is a hodgepodge of three things. They are:
- Your negative, traumatic experiences.
- Your insecurities and fears.
- Your body’s natural response to threat and danger.
It manifests as a voice in your head that berates and undermines you when you try to do things like:
- Take risks.
- Make long-lasting, meaningful changes.
- Express yourself in an authentic way.
- Give yourself credit.
According to Psych Alive:
The term “voice” is used to describe a form of intrapsychic communication that represents a split within the individual between forces that are life-affirming and those that are antagonistic to the self.
Being hard on yourself is useful if it comes from a place of self-respect.
But an inner critic is a creature born from pain, blame, and self-loathing. It seeks to constantly remind you how inferior you are, how many times you’ve failed, and how there’s no hope of change.
It is a source of personal destruction, and to beat it, we need to understand it.
What Does the Inner Critic Want?
At first glance, it seems like this thing is just out to harm you. And it certainly can. A nagging inner critic can feel like a curse, and enduring all that negative internal feedback can sap the life out of you.
So, it might feel like your inner critic is destroying you right now. But what if it isn’t? Another school of thought suggests that your internal critic is, in a subconscious way, actually on your side.
Here’s a personal example: When I would feel tempted to express my opinions to the people around me, my inner critic would say, “No one wants to hear you talk.”
Negative experiences had conditioned my mind to reject any attempt at talking. Instead of seeing this as a hindrance, you could see it as my mind trying to protect me from pain.
Some say all critical voices are self-preserving if you take a minute to listen to them. The asshole in your head really does care. He (or she) just has an interesting way of showing it.
Let’s look at some concrete strategies for embracing this idea:
Strategies for Transcending the Inner Critic
No one strategy will work for everyone, as everyone’s critic is unique, but here are some proven psychological tips:
1. ACT (Acceptance and Commitment)
According to Jena E Pincott of Psychology Today, a great technique for beating the inner critic is to identify it and give it a name. Instead of fighting it, you take note of how it behaves, what its intentions are, and when it pops up.
This is called Acceptance and Commitment. You choose to see the critic as a mental occurrence rather than an objective fact. Much like mindfulness meditation, you observe your negative thoughts without getting swept up in them.
This can take the wind out of the critic’s sails, and give you more control.
This is a more direct method of dealing with the inner critic. You respond to it by remembering and affirming your positive qualities. Pincott says:
Affirmations can revise the negative messages we hear — or think we hear — from the voices of parental figures unable to show that they believed in us enough, or from a naturally neurotic or self doubting personality.
Focus on your strengths — write them down if you have to. When you reinforce what you know to be true, the inner critic will get drowned out.
3. Listen and Befriend
Like I said before, you could see your critic as someone trying to protect you from harm.
Maybe self-criticism has benefited you in the past, and you fear that if you start going easy on yourself, then you won’t produce your best work, or you won't be able to deal with problems as effectively.
I would call that being attached to old scripts of living. Your self-degrading habits are not serving you anymore, and the critic is trying to keep you where you’ve always been. Because that’s all it knows.
When you see the critic as a concerned friend that’s (in a shitty way) looking out for you, you essentially defang it. You remember that it’s ultimately your choice to follow its advice.
4. Incremental Self Growth
The inner critic is usually either chastising you for something you did or preventing you from doing something you’d like to do. If you challenge your critic, and chip away at it by proving it wrong time and time again, you can start to disempower it.
Pincott uses the example of a shy person wanting to speak up more. The critic will tell them that they aren’t a good conversationalist and that people won’t like them. So, they should counter that with a growth-oriented voice.
A growth-oriented voice, once it’s been embraced, can instead pipe up and tell you to seize every opportunity to be heard.
Take every risk, despite what your critic is telling you. These will build up into a totally new way of being, and newfound self-respect.
It’s almost as if your critic and your fear are guideposts toward what you should be working on…
5. Make Self Compassion Most Important
Being in your own corner starts with self-compassion. Before your mind can get carried away with destroying you, you have to put the brakes on it and interject with a voice that’s caring and understanding.
Pincott says you should adopt the attitude of a parent consoling a child. Obviously, you aren’t a child, but when the shame you feel stretches back to childhood, you need to give yourself the compassion you were robbed of.
We’re all guilty of mistakes, selfishness, reckless actions, and dishonesty. So what makes your mistakes so unforgivable? Why do you deserve to suffer more?
How Dare You Talk to You Like That
Our inner critics can ruin us, but they can also provide us with insight into our condition.
They are artifacts of our emotional processing, our self-perception, our shame, our early relationships, and our expectations of ourselves.
You wouldn't want to be a person who couldn’t check their behavior, but the alternative should not be adopting an inner critic that ruins any chance you have of feeling good about yourself.
- Take an objective view of your inner critic
- Know and reinforce your strengths, positive qualities, and things you’re proud of.
- See your critic as a buddy who’s just being too overbearing in trying to protect you.
- Challenge what the critic says you can’t do and use it as a means for growth.
- Show yourself some kindness.
Please stop treating yourself like garbage and stifling what could be something great. Use your inner critic as a guide, either toward what you need to face, or what you need to address and forgive within yourself.