The Inner Critic and how to manage it
The Inner Critic and how to manage it
30 June 2020
Many people describe having an inner voice that is critical of their ability and competence, appearance and likability. This stops them reaching out for the things they want such as a new job, a new relationship or even an activity that might give them joy.
"Don't bother trying. You will mess this up anyway. You are not smart enough."
"Have you looked in the mirror lately? You will look ridiculous doing Yoga. Everyone will laugh at you."
"Why would he want you? You are boring. You will make a fool out of yourself."
"You are a fraud. They find out that you don't know what you are on about."
The consequences are that people don't achieve their full potential, stay in relationships that are unfulfilling or even abusive, and are feeling lonely and disconnected from themselves. This can lead to depression, anxiety, hopelessness and worthlessness.
I used to think that the 'Inner Critic' sounded like a person's parents, but came to realise that this is not so. People mostly reported no similarity between their 'Inner Critic' and how their parents spoke to them. A research article by Mills and his colleagues suggests that self-criticism might be linked to others (e.g. parents) not being remembered as being re-assuring or helpful rather than having experienced excessive criticism.
So what if parents were not critical, but just did not provide the support that was needed in emotionally stressful situations? As there was no support and therefore also no role-model for learning to manage difficult emotions such as embarrassment, shame, guilt, hurt, sadness etc, it became best to avoid situations where these feelings could arise. The 'Inner Critic' took on the role of ensuring that a person does not make him/herself vulnerable, unfortunately using a dismissive style.
Exploration of the 'Inner Critic's' agenda in therapy often shows that it wants to protect against overwhelming negative feelings. It's agenda is a good one, but it's methods are counter-productive when it comes to overall well-being.
So how do we manage the 'Inner Critic'?
Lisa Firestone https://www.psychalive.org/4-steps-to-conquer-your-inner-critic/ suggests a 4 step approach:
Step 1: Identify Your Inner Critic
Listen to what your inner critic is saying.
Notice the comments and judgments without debating or arguing with it. It is just something you are hearing.
Acknowledge that this is not a reflection of you real point of view or of reality.
Step 2: Separate From Your Inner Critic
Write down the 'Inner Critic's' statements as 'You are....' (rather than 'I am ...).
The purpose of this is to disown the judgements of the 'Inner Critic'. They are not your judgements.
Step 3: Respond to Your Inner Critic
Respond to your inner critic by writing down a more realistic and compassionate evaluation of yourself.
A reality check of your achievements and how others think and feel about you provides a more balanced, compassionate view of yourself rather than the 'Inner Critic' who says 'you always... ' or 'you never ...'.
Step 4: Don’t Act On Your Inner Critic
Take actions that represent your own view, not your inner critic's.
The 'Inner Critic' will initially fight your decision to go against it and become more critical as it is determined to protect you. So brace yourself.
When you take a risk and make a different decision, no matter what the outcome, make sure you praise yourself. Don't let the 'Inner Critic' tell you 'I told you so' if it goes wrong. Praise your courage to take a risk and notice your feelings. Think of kind and compassionate self-soothing strategies to manage them. At the end of the day, only who dares wins.
This approach sounds laborious for sure, but overtime, as you form a more compassionate, balanced self-image and your emotional resilience grows, the 'Inner Critic' will hopefully evolve into a more useful ally, making life much easier.
For some people this strategy may be sufficient to bring about change. For people whose parents did not only fail to provide support in emotionally stressful situations, but who also did not meet their child's needs for love and caring, appropriate and sufficient attention, and for making them feel safe, this will most likely not be enough. In this case you may want to explore psychotherapy as an option to help you change how you are feeling about yourself.
For more resources on developing self-compassion see https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk
I hope you find this useful.