The Inner Critic

This is the voice inside your head that tells you everything that’s wrong with you. Also known as negative self-talk, the voice of the inner critic varies in intensity from person to person.
For some of you the voice may be manageable, only chiming in on occasion and under certain circumstances like when you’re under stress or feeling insecure.

On the other end of the spectrum, the messages can feel like a daily barrage of negativity from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you fall asleep at night. Some of these messages can range from the mild “why did I just say that?” to the mean “I always screw up. I’m so stupid!” Check in with yourself. What are your negative self-talk statements saying to you?
If you’re at the mean end of the spectrum, your inner critic is on all the time, and it can seem like you can’t turn it off. If it’s not telling you how you messed up, what a loser you are, or how nothing ever works out for you, it’ll have you play the comparison game. This is the game in which you constantly compare yourself to others who may seem to be in every way more fortunate than you. It’ll insist you’re not enough. Not smart enough. Not attractive enough. Not thin enough. Not (fill in the blank) enough.
How did it get in there?
The inner critic can be traced back to early childhood. Life was wonderful until that pivotal moment when someone said something that sent the message that you were not OK just as you are. It could have been a parent or other relative; a teacher or another child. If you were teased or bullied the inner critic may have been formed during these incidents.

Knowing that the voice of the inner critic comes from other peoples’ opinions should give you a clue: This is not your voice, and it’s not a reflection of who you really are. In truth, only you get to decide who you are and what you’re capable of. If the negative self-talk habit has been running your life to now, it’s time to let it go.
How to get the upper hand
You may wonder what life would be like without it. You may even think it’s not possible to control it, but with some effort it is definitely possible. If you’re really ready to let it go, here are the first three steps you can take:

  • Step One. Recognize it when it’s happening. Be aware of your thoughts and notice the circumstances. Is the critic most active when you’re under stress or is it always commenting regardless of the situation? Notice the thoughts themselves. What are they saying? Capture them in a sentence.

  • Step Two. Once you know what the sentence is, question it. Ask yourself, “how true is that really?” Or, find evidence to the contrary. For example, if the thought is “I can’t do anything right!”, stop and ask yourself if that’s true in every case. Come up with instances where you have done things right. This proves that the inner critic doesn’t know everything about you! Be persistent. Keep questioning the veracity of the statements and proving the inner critic wrong, consistently.

  • Step Three. Replace each negative thought with a positive, empowering one. This will take some practice, but in time you will notice the negative self-talk decreasing until you no longer hear it.

Recognizing that the inner critic was formed by the actions or opinions of others should go a long way towards minimizing the power it has over you. You now have a choice of whether to listen to the voices or oppose them, ultimately shutting them down for good.