We all have an ‘inner critic’ or an insecure, self-doubting part of ourselves. We also all have a confident, self-affirming part of ourselves. Depending on which part of ourselves we’re feeling more connected to in any given moment dictates what type of action we do or don’t take. For example, if we’re more connected to our confident self we may be more likely to make a big life change that is scary, but is more aligned with our goals & desires. If we’re more connected to our inner critic, however, we might stay stuck or paralyzed out of fear that we won’t be able to handle the change.
Some of us have an inner critic that is pretty tame. It may pop up when we make a mistake or say/do something embarrassing, but otherwise it’s a subtle, quiet voice that usually doesn’t control our behavior. However some of us have an inner critic that we use to define ourselves and that drives the course of our lives. We make decisions based on what our inner critic thinks and says – and because of this we may stay stuck in unhealthy patterns of behavior that result in shame, thus making our inner critic even stronger.
So how do we break the cycle? How do we shift from an inner critic that causes us to self-sabotage to an inner critic that is just along for the ride? Notice that I didn’t say how do we get rid of our inner critic. Eliminating our inner critic entirely isn’t possible and it shouldn’t be the goal. This keeps us stuck in black-and-white thinking, which is equally damaging. However following the steps below can help us to co-exist with our inner critic without being defined or driven by it.
Create space for your inner critic
The problem many people make when trying to overcome self-critical or negative thinking is attempting to go from 0 to 100. They make the goal to eliminate self-critical thinking completely. Trying to resist our inner critic is actually counterproductive because it is impossible to change a way of thinking completely over night. Instead, if we create space for our inner critic to co-exist with all the other parts of us, we are less likely to take actions based on it – the same actions that create more shame and self-critical thinking.
This may sound strange, but try thinking of your inner critic as a separate entity. Give it a name if you need to. This will help you identify your inner critic as a PART of you – without perceiving it to be ALL of you. Creating space for your inner critic might look like: “Hey, Trixie – I see you and I hear you. You make some interesting points. You can sit next to me in the passenger seat and share your opinion, but you’re not driving the car. I will listen to what you have to say, but I’m not going to assume that you are right or let you make decisions about where we go”.
Be compassionate toward your inner critic
We tend to get hard on ourselves about being hard on ourselves, which results in a never-ending feedback loop. We actually make our inner critic even louder when we are harsh with it. Instead, we must show it compassion and be non-judgmental toward it. We must understand that it’s trying to protect us (even if we might not need protecting) and that it doesn’t mean to cause us harm.
Thinking of your inner critic as a small child who might be acting out simply because it wants love & care might help you be more patient and compassionate toward this part of yourself. If we think about it logically, our inner critic is just trying to keep us safe. And even though it might end up hurting us sometimes, this isn’t it’s intent. Being compassionate with our inner critic gives us the space and opportunity to heal it.
Reality test your inner critic
Most of the time our inner critic has things to say that aren’t entirely factual. When our inner critic is the loudest of our internal dialogues, we are going to subconsciously seek out the information to prove it right. If our inner critic has a core belief that we’re bad at our job, for example, we’ll be more likely to focus on evidence to support that and to ignore evidence that contradicts it. We’ll ignore positive feedback from our boss and focus only on the negative.
When a critical thought pops up try asking if that is actually objectively true. Try to consciously look for and find other evidence that contradicts the inner critic – because most of the time, you will find it. Most situations are subjective. Start to look for another potential reality or alternative story. And start weaving that evidence into your narrative too.
Identify other inner dialogues
As mentioned previously, we all have different parts of ourselves and different internal dialogues. That being said, there IS a confident dialogue inside of us as well. It’s okay if you aren’t feeling connected to it – and you can’t force yourself to be. Self-love can’t and shouldn’t be forced. However you CAN identify what that self-affirming or confident voice would say if they were part of the conversation.
When your inner critic is speaking up, instead of blindly listening, try to think about what your confident, self-affirming self would say if they were asked. Often this can look like what you would say to a friend or someone you love if they were struggling with the same self-critical thoughts or feelings. Even if you don’t resonate or fully believe/identify with the more confident thought right away, giving it a space to be heard too is an important way of eventually shifting the internal dialogue.
Don’t let your inner critic call the shots
As we’ve learned, it’s okay to have an inner critic. We all do. And the goal should not be to erase it completely. The goal is to simply not let our inner critic drive our decision making. By creating space and compassion for our inner critic, we can allow it to co-exist along side of us without letting it drive the metaphorical car of our lives.
When faced with a decision, however big or small, simply ask: what would my inner critic tell me to do and what would my confident self tell me to do? And make a commitment to make decisions based on the latter. It’s okay to have self-critical thoughts and feelings sometimes. In fact, it’s human. But it’s not okay to make big decisions about your life based on them. You deserve more.
If this makes sense in theory, but you’re still struggling to put it into practice, try working on this with a trusted therapist who can help you dig deeper into the root cause of your self-critical thoughts.