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Managing Your Inner Critic

Every one of us consists of a multitude of ‘parts’. The part that is a parent, a team member or even a guilty part of you. Then there is the inner critic. A part of you that is quick to criticise, readily available to doubt your motivation and undermine your accomplishments. I have had many clients name their inner critic and give it a persona. The power of its voice being so strong that they feel it warrants its own identity. Often termed the ‘anti self’.

The inner critic can be so unforgiving and harsh. It can sabotage relationships, be hell bent on crushing any self-worth you have but more importantly, it can have a huge impact on your mental health. This can often result in social anxiety, depression and can even lead to compulsive behaviours and addictions.. I’ve also had women sharing how they are unwilling to let go of their inner critic, citing how It’s helped them achieve so much over the years.

‍When does the inner critic develop?

The inner critic can develop in early formative years and develop from painful experiences that are never challenged but become part of someone’s ‘norm’ in life. A good example of this would be a child who could never live up to their parents expectations. The constant dialogue being, ‘I’m not good enough’. In adult life, they strive to be the best they can be but constantly miss out on promotions or opportunities because their inner critic tells them that they are not worthy of achieving that status.

As we develop and grow, we begin to make sense of our world through our experiences. The attitudes and behaviours of those around us can have a huge impact on our own beliefs and it can take years or never at all, to update that old outdated belief system.  Through regular therapy, these ideas can be challenged but ultimately, the core of these beliefs are often deep-rooted and stored in our subconscious.  Held tightly within that part of our mind that stores every thought, feeling and memory we have ever had from the age of approx. 18months. When we fail to confront our inner critic, it can shape how we live our lives and also what behavioural patterns we adopt.

Common dialogue from the inner critic

  • “What’s wrong with me?”
  • “I’m just no good at learning new technology, Ive always been this way”
  • I’ll just let someone else do that task as they will be better at it than me
  • I’m not worthy of this relationship

How do we manage our inner critic?

The question is, should we be managing, challenging or attacking our inner critic head-on?  Surely what we all need to do is simply gain acceptance and move on?  Sometimes easier said than done. How long would you be prepared to stay in a stale relationship or continue to hang around with an abusive friend yet you allow your inner critic to? Let’s explore some ideas.

1. Understand your triggers

    Whenever our emotions run high or we are experiencing shame or being challenged at work, our inner critic can be on high alert, waiting in the wings to play out a role.  A role that has become an expert in its own right. It’s important to recognise these events and often clients find that keeping a journal can be really useful to identify regular patterns of behaviour. It’s being aware of when your inner dialogue changes in its tone and intensity.

    2. Create a framework in which you are in control of your inner critic

    Once you have defined how your tone is changing and your inner critic is ready to make an appearance, take action. See yourself standing firmly in front of yourself and take control. Make your voice louder than that inner critic and overtalk the negative thoughts with powerful positive ones.  Put your hands on your hips if that helps.

    3. Reduce the power you give to that inner critic.

    It’s a pattern that has been around for many years and whose voice drowns out your rational self-talk so it’s time to reduce its power. Clients will often create a weak, often pathetic object or character and really reduce it in size and shape to become something that they can be fully in control of.

    I recall a client of mine whose inner critic was so in control of everything she wore that she would change up to 4 times before leaving the house to work. I asked her to give me a description of what this ‘part’ of her looked like and she described it as a short bully that would criticise and taunt her. She felt that part of her had a purpose to keep her safe. We then explored what that part of her would look like if it was nurturing, and protective and gave her the confidence to make one choice of clothing and she immediately pictured and described her Grandmother. A woman who raised her and took no nonsense from everyone. She went on to say that her Grandmother could defeat anyone and suddenly, she realised she had the power to tackle her inner critic head-on. As with every client, there was a lot more background to this particular case.

    ‍4. Create a useful tool kit

    There are a lot of tools that you can begin to build and utilise in your every day. Some will take minutes out of your day and others will take a more concerted effort. Examples could be:

    • Take some time out to listen to a guided journey on an MP3 which builds your self-esteem
    • Introduce a mindfulness meditation
    • Learn a simple routine such as tapping in EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) which will instantly break the thought cycle
    • Introduce self-compassion. Bring a kinder voice into your conversation.  This inner voice might also validate how you’re feeling and comfort you when you are upset.

    ‍5. Get to the root cause of your self-criticism

    We all know that this can be a difficult and often painful process which is why therapy can be an essential part of the journey. Working with the right therapist at the right time can reap the rewards and allow you to feel more fulfilled and less weighed down with the emotional baggage you may have been holding onto for years.

    Examples of good therapy can be:





    ‍Dealing with the inner critic can be an ongoing process and the more receptive you are in opening yourself up to cultivate your compassionate inner voice, the more you will find that it becomes easier to hear. You might also find that you no longer have to consciously invite that kinder voice forward as it will start asserting itself spontaneously, chipping in when the inner critic is being negative.

    ‍Whilst the inner critic may not disappear completely, it might shrink in its intensity, leaving more room for positive self-talk, giving you the opportunity to discover your true self, build your self-worth and gain a new perspective on life.

    ‍Written by Sally Benson. Director of UK Counselling Network CIC

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