You have an inner critic, whether you know it or not. It may be weaving a web of destruction in your life. Here’s how it works – and how you can control it.
Ever had any of these thoughts?
“You’re not good enough.”
“No one likes you.”
“No one appreciates how hard you work.”
“He/she doesn’t love you.”
“You can’t do that.”
“You’ll fail, like you always do.”
That negative voice in your head – that’s known as your inner critic. In the psychology world, it’s also called the critical inner voice or the superego. Everyone has an inner critic, though you may not be aware of yours. It’s basically a pattern of destructive thoughts directed toward yourself and others.
The inner critic is a fear-based mechanism that destroys self-confidence and prevents you from acting in your own best interests. It damages personal relationships, professional relationships, success in school and at work – and it often stops you from taking risks and achieving goals.
The Origin of the Inner Critic
It wasn’t always bad, necessarily. The inner critic starts out as a sense of right and wrong passed down from your parents and other influential people in your life. By around age 7 it has become a guiding force that helps you moderate base impulses (what Freud called the id), control selfish instincts, and behave in socially appropriate ways. But depending upon the influences and experiences in your upbringing, if left unchecked it can begin to rob you of all you were meant to be.
The inner critic is not a trustworthy moral guide like your conscience. Imagine your inner voice saying “You’re fat.” Though you may actually be overweight, this comment probably won’t motivate you to start making healthy changes in your life. On the contrary, the thought will be followed with something like “And you’ll never be skinny, because you’re weak and worthless and a failure.” You can see how this thought process increases a person’s self-hatred and, rather than prompting change, it triggers avoidanceand continues the cycle of unhealthy behaviors – sometimes even worsening them.
How to Control Your Inner Critic
The good news is, there are ways to harness the negativity of your inner critic and suppress its influence over your life.
Step 1: Give It a Face
The first step is to be aware that your inner critic exists, and learn to identify it.
Now attach a mental image to your inner critic. Envision him or her as a separate human being. What does he/she look like? Creating an image of your inner critic can instantly take away some of its power. Plus it gives the critic an identity outside of yourself, allowing you to separate from the negativity. It’s not “you” that is saying these things – it’s that other person.
Note: A very important part of the process of controlling your inner voice is separating yourself from it. Your inner voice is not who you are.
Step 2: Identify its Triggers
Where and with whom does your inner critic show up?
Is it at work? During social events? With your spouse? With your kids? With your parents? At the gym? When you look in the mirror?
Are you tired, hungry, or stressed when the inner critic makes its appearance? Does your inner critic remind you of someone you know?
Identifying the scenarios and circumstances that trigger your inner voice will help equip you for when the inner voice strikes. You won’t be blindsided, you’ll know when to expect it.
Step 3: Get to Know It
This is a time for deeper reflection.
What does your inner critic say to you? Write it down.
Where do you think it originated from?
What lies has your inner critic told you that prevent you from achieving goals and having fulfilling relationships?
Step 4: Respond to It
You’ve separated yourself from your inner critic, taken an objective look at where it originated from, what triggers it, and what it says to you. Now it is time to respond.
Your inner critic is a liar. It has been lying to you for years and years, and you have believed its lies. Those lies have become your story.
But now it’s time to write yourself a new story. Your inner wisdom knows much better than your inner critic. Listen to your inner wisdom. It says:
“You are good enough.”
“You are worthy.”
“You are beautiful.”
“You are loved.”
“You can do it.”
Write a response to everything your inner critic tells you. Meditate and repeat those responses daily. Be present with yourself, authentically you – and believe in your inner wisdom. You are no longer your own worst critic.