Is your inner monologue friendly and encouraging, or critical and mean? If it’s the latter, you’ve probably got an inner critic living rent-free in your head.
“The inner critic is like a negative inner voice that’s full of judgment,” Ciarán Coyle, Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy member and psychotherapist with Fettle.ie.
Our inner critic probably got its foothold in our childhood. We are now so used to its soundtrack, we hardly even notice it, let alone think we can change the tune.
Where does it come from?
Some negative self-talk is a part of being human. We all say things like, “If only I…” or “I should have…”
But self-criticism shouldn’t be the only voice we hear; there needs to be some self-compassion too.
Our inner critic can take its script from the dominant voices of our childhood. How we were spoken to by caregivers at home or at school can become how we speak to ourselves as adults.
“In our first seven or eight years, we take on a lot of what we believe from the people around us,” says Coyle. “If we get the message, again and again, ‘Why would anyone care what you have to say?’, we start to believe it,” says Coyle. “We internalise this voice in our formative years. We can then get stuck in the fear zone and find it hard to reach our potential.”
Is there any upside?
High achievers might say it’s their inner critic that drives them, says Coyle. “When I don’t achieve something, I tell myself, ‘I’m no good, I’m not good enough,’ and it spurs me on. But this voice is not helpful for the most part. It can create a lot of pain and anguish. We are planting seeds of anxiety with all the mean things we say to ourselves. It’s promoting shame and low self-esteem.”
How do I quiet my inner critic?
The first thing is to acknowledge your inner critic as part of your personality, says Coyle. Then get curious about it – ask yourself, where might this voice be coming from and why it is speaking up. Journaling or speaking to a therapist can help you with discovering this.
Give the voice a name: negative Noel, critical Karen, take your pick. This can help make it more tangible for us, says Coyle.
Then challenge the voice. If Karen is tut-tutting, or Noel says you’ve slipped up, counter them.
“Tell yourself, ‘Just because I’ve failed this time, I’m not a failure. Falling down is part of life. It just means we go again. I can take something from this experience, what is this trying to teach me?’ So you are separating your identity from a performance on task,” says Coyle.
It can help to imagine your inner critic as a bully, says Coyle. “Would you let someone speak to your best friend like that?”
When you’ve dropped a stitch and your inner critic pipes up, blast it with a lovebomb. “Ask yourself, what would you say to your best friend in this situation? Would you criticise them, or help them get back on their feet? Try being your own best friend,” says Coyle.
Spread the love
Those who are quick to critique others give us a window into how harshly they may judge themselves. When we speak judgmentally or unforgivingly of others, it may be that we are similarly judgmental and unforgiving of ourselves.
When we can be more compassionate towards ourselves, we are likely to be able to feel that way about others too.