IS YOUR INNER CRITIC HOLDING YOU BACK?Feb 20, 2022
You’re feeling down because you procrastinated on an assignment. Your inner critic starts up: “You’re so lazy and useless! If only you got started earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.”
You start to feel worse until someone says something that changes your perspective. “That was Harold’s fault. He distracted you with his questions about the project.”
Now, instead of feeling bad because of what you did or didn’t do, you feel annoyed at Harold for distracting you, but you forgive Howard, no one’s perfect after all!
We all tend to blame ourselves for things we can’t control, but the way we react towards ourselves is far worse than if we had someone else to blame, who we are then quick to forgive. It is OK for others to be imperfect, but not ourselves; oh No!
Criticising yourself for mistakes you made doesn’t just make the error harder to fix; it can also affect your performance in the future because you may be afraid of failing again. For example, let’s say that you keep calling people by the wrong name. You might feel bad about it and then start calling people by their names less often out of fear of making another mistake. You could then miss out on many opportunities to better get to know your friends and co-workers and develop new connections!
WHAT IS THE INNER CRITIC?
The Inner critic is an internal voice that judges and compares who we are to others. It is a voice that tries to keep you safe from harm; even if that harm is just the risk of embarrassment, it will still show up as if it is a matter of life and death!
Often when we feel like we’ve messed up or done something “wrong,” our inner critics tell us things like: “You should have known better,” “This is why no one likes you,” or “You’ll never get ahead if you can’t do anything right.”
These thoughts lead to insecurity, making it harder to stand up for yourself and take risks because you’re afraid of making mistakes. Your inner critic is that voice in your head that thinks negative thoughts about yourself or things you are doing. When it comes up, you might have thoughts along the lines of “I’m not doing this very well” or “I’m not qualified to do this.” You can identify when it happens by paying attention to your thoughts, particularly binary and negative ones.
When you listen to the inner critic, you end up feeling like You’re not good enough or You’re never going to be enough, especially when compared with others. No matter what you achieve in life, there’s always something more you could have done better or differently. There is no perfection.
The inner critic is powerful enough to stop you from following your dreams or taking on risks that could lead you towards something better. If you are an overachiever, this voice can make you feel like the more work you do, the closer you are to failing at everything, thus losing it all.
It’s not easy to switch off or control the inner critic; it’s there for your protection, even though it does not realise you are not risking your life. There is no such thing as proportionality when it comes to the single mandate of the inner critic, which is ultimately Your protection!
HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOUR INNER CRITIC?
The good news? It’s possible to interrupt its negative chatter and calm it down for a while, but be aware that the inner critic has one purpose, and that is to keep you bored because bored is safe, it will find ways to return, so this is a continuous process you need to go through.
The first step in quietening the voice is to learn how to identify it when it is active. Listen to the tone of voice; what is it telling you? Is it reminding you of all your failures, even if they happened decades ago? Does it remind you that you’re never good enough and will always be a failure compared to others?
The inner critic presents a binary, harsh voice, not a progressive and forward-thinking one. It’s a voice of fear; it’s not your friend. It can make you feel OK for a little while, but then it will tell you that the only way to stay safe is to do what you’re already doing and not take any risks. That way, you won’t make any mistakes or be embarrassed.
When the inner critic is in full flight mode, there are lots of statements it will make: - ‘You’re so stupid’ - ‘Who would want to hire/love/go out with someone like you?’ - ‘This project will fail’ - ‘I knew that wasn’t going to work’ - ‘What have I done?’ Just by listening to these messages’ tone, frequency, and content, we get an idea of this being our inner critic speaking.
Think about the voice and think about what it’s telling you and ask yourself if it reminds you of anybody from your life or a character, imagined or known. Try and build a picture in your mind of who or what this voice belongs to, think of their personality and give them a name.
I can tell you what mine is; it is Gollum from Lord of the rings, it shows up calling me it's precious in a Wingy whiny voice and telling me why I can't do something. And I'll start to laugh when I hear it 😂
Talks to me like Gollum talks to Bilbo Baggins when Gollum is trying to influence Bilbo Baggins in one way or another. Trying to keep Bilbo safe as my inner critic tries to keep me safe.
Fortunately for me, I found my inner mentor, he is a great combatant to Gollum. My Inner Mentor also has a name, his name is Ace. That is what a Scouser, (a Liverpudlian) in the army used to call me. He was what we classed a senior corporate because he's been in the army for a very long time and he kind of took me under his wing. He is long passed now but sometimes his voice shows up with the voice of my inner mentor, "All Right There Ace?" he says. My elemental is actually me 15 years from now. But it makes me smile when I hear him say that and it makes me think of Scouse 🙂
And that's why I called my Inner Mentor, Ace!
Once identified, ask yourself these simple questions: - why are you listening to this voice? What is its purpose in your life right now? And how does being so hard on yourself help you heal or move forward in your life at this point? When you get clear about Your inner critic’s true aim, you can see that this negative voice doesn’t have to control your life.
The critical point here is to keep things in perspective; if you’re thinking something your inner critic has said - ask yourself, ‘has this thought helped me at all?’ If the answer is no, then it’s time to tune out of its negative chatter and tune into somebody who wants the best for you; somebody who wants you to be happy; somebody who knows how wonderful, talented, and brilliant you are. You can’t get rid of your inner critic, but what you can do is change how often you listen to it. The more time we spend with an internal voice that tells us we’re never enough, the more power we give it.
HOW DO YOU CHALLENGE YOUR INNER CRITIC WHEN IT ARISES IN YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE?
The first thing to do is identify all the inaccuracies in what the inner critic is telling you, identify the antithesis of what it is saying, and find evidence to support this new view. You can even write the two opposing views down and then highlight what’s wrong with Your Inner Critic’s negative statements.
Ask yourself, ‘how do I feel?’ when Your Inner Critic is talking, take the time to sit with it, accept that these thoughts are present in your mind but don’t let them define you. Allowing the feelings to be there without judgment helps us understand this part of ourselves and what triggers our negative thoughts.
Ask yourself, “Is this notion helpful to me in any way?”
If not, thank your inner critic for trying to keep you safe and move on. The beauty is that if you don’t fall for your inner critic’s fiction, it has no power over you.
The more you disengage with Your Inner Critic’s negativity, your drive towards big goals will become stronger. You can take heart that its voice is just a protective mechanism that fears anything more than your regular routine. By being gentle with yourself, you can tune into the greatness of who you are, bringing you the best results in all areas of life.
Challenging negative thoughts gives you more control over your life and is kinder towards yourself. It also helps you take back your natural creative energy. Negative thoughts stifle good feelings; they drain your enthusiasm.
Recognise the difference between your thoughts and reality. What you think about yourself may not be true! For example, if you hear that someone thinks you’re stuck-up or annoying, it doesn’t mean that they genuinely believe those things about you. Maybe they said it to get a reaction out of you or because they don’t know how to express themselves well. It’s hard to say for sure what was going through their head at the moment, so take other people’s words with a grain of salt. If possible, ask them why they said something so you can clear up any misunderstandings without taking everything personally.
Sometimes your inner critic even tries making you feel bad about feeling bad! For example, you might think that you’re being too sensitive when you get upset at something someone said, but then Your Inner Critic responds with thoughts like “What’s wrong with you?” or “You’re never satisfied.”
At these times, it can be helpful to remember that there will always be people in your life who love and support you no matter what. It could be a friend, family member, teacher, therapist, whoever makes you feel secure in knowing they’ll be there for you. And if they make comments which make you uncomfortable (without meaning to), it’s OK to tell them what bothers (or even offends) you so the situation can improve next time.
One of the best things you can do is find an accountability partner, someone who knows you and supports you and your aspirations.
The more time you spend with somebody supportive, the less likely you will listen to your inner critic. We all need people in our lives who will build us up when we’re down, encourage us to take risks, try something new or smash through our perceived limitations. You deserve to surround yourself with inspiring and encouraging people who want you to succeed, not fail.
Think about whether Your Inner Critic is just trying to protect you and keep you safe from harm, or if it’s simply making excuses for not doing things that could help you improve. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and challenging the negative tendency in yourself can lead to so many positive results, as well as rewarding opportunities you never imagined possible. Sometimes it might take a little practice before you get the hang of it.
Once you start getting better at identifying those negative thoughts and coping mechanisms, you’ll begin to feel more empowered over each situation that arises. You won’t fear rejection or failure or embarrassment anymore because you’ll realise that it’s a normal part of being human, and the more you face the challenging feelings, the more quickly they will diminish. You’ll come to learn that your negative thoughts about yourself are just temporary and don’t necessarily reflect reality.
It may be helpful to journal about your inner critic, writing out the negative thoughts it sends your way before challenging them. When you can see what your inner critic is saying without judgmental language, it’s easier to understand where those thoughts are coming from and learn how to combat them.
As much as Your Inner Critic may seem overwhelming and scary, it’s just Your inner voice! You can’t let those negative voices in your head define who you are. The more you listen to the negativity, the more power it has over you.
When you hear your inner critic speak up, it’s crucial to have a coping mechanism in place to avoid getting stuck in the negativity.
As you learn how to tune into your negative thoughts and challenge them, you can take back control over your life. You don’t always have to follow the path that Your Inner Critic thinks is best; You can choose another way if it’s what makes you truly happy.
Your thoughts aren’t facts; they’re just little voices inside your head that give you false information. If something negative happens, like you forget your lines during a play or an important person doesn’t call when they were supposed to, remind yourself of all the good things going on in your life and the positive lessons you’ve learned from this experience. Every situation is a chance for growth, even if it doesn’t seem that way now!
The next time you start beating yourself up or telling yourself things won’t go well or that you aren’t good enough, pause for a moment and ask yourself if your thoughts are true. Is there evidence for this? Or are these excuses to help reinforce the idea that you’re not good enough, so stay bored and, therefore, safe? Your thoughts can be your worst enemy or your biggest motivator. It’s up to you to decide which one they will be!
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