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On a daily basis many of us encounter our inner critic who is often harsh, judgmental and demeaning. It shows up saying things that you would never say to another person and you feel no control over this invasive voice powering your thoughts and expectations. The inner critic serves to highlight our perceived faults and shortcomings and is rooted in the narrative that we were exposed to as children.
Examples of this narrative are:
- that you will never amount to/achieve anything
- you’re a loser
- nobody likes or loves you
- you’re worthless
- you’re a failure / useless
While these are “truths” that we might live by now, the good news is that the inner critic is not innate, it’s learned. But first, let’s explore where this inner critic comes from.
THE INNER CRITIC’S ORIGIN STORY
It develops in childhood from repeated exposure to harsh remarks and criticisms about ourselves and our abilities from a variety of sources. Sources ranging from parents and carers, teachers, our peers, the media and society at large.
We received repeated positive feedback for our strengths and so they were overemphasised. For example if we were good academically or good at sports, art or music. Parents/carers and teachers focused on these strengths and we learned that this was what was expected from us and what we were validated for.
However, we were discouraged and negatively viewed for weaknesses/flaws which we then automatically hid. As a result, the more we were validated for this identity – the overemphasis of strengths and discouragement of the flaws and weaknesses – the more we were driven to perfectionism, self-judgement and criticism. Not only of ourselves but of others as well.
We learned through this validation to strive for what is positive only and discard or hide what we were not good at. This cemented the job of the inner critic to keep us small. And this is how perfectionism comes about – the standard has been set and we constantly strive to meet it. Most of us are proud of this perfection. But… it is driven by shame – the shame with which we hide our weaknesses or flaws. It’s not your fault, you’ve been conditioned that way.
HERE’S THE TRUTH ABOUT PERFECTIONISM
Consequently, the cycle solidified into our belief system over time and it matured into that harsh, demeaning, judgmental self-critic that we experience as adults. The irony is: even though we believe that we are perfectionists and pride ourselves in being such, we still feel unworthy and incomplete. For example: you may be suitably qualified for a specific job or career, but constantly doubt or second-guess yourself and your abilities.
Perfectionism is about perception and therefore subjective – what one might believe to be perfect another might not. The perfection that you strive to maintain in your life and work is by the standards that you were judged by when you were younger – perfection by others’ standards. Unfortunately, you will never manage to meet others’ expectations as the standards always shift.
Similarly, this perfectionism is projected onto others when we say and believe that others can’t and won’t do something to meet our standards. By projecting the criticism onto others we feel better about ourselves because we don’t have to look at our own “imperfections” or tolerate those of others – just as ours weren’t tolerated while growing up.
A SELF-DEFEATING CYCLE: YOU VS INNER CRITIC
As we navigate our way through life we are constantly seeking supporting evidence to meet the expectations that match our inner stories – the stories of:
- not good enough
- I’m not this enough
- I’m too this or that, etc.
This drives a self-defeating cycle of self-sabotaging behaviour and this in turn leads to poor outcomes where we feel stuck and unmotivated.
The constant negative self-talk in turn reinforces the embedded beliefs that drive our inner critic and has several effects which keep us stuck and not realising our true potential.
THE EFFECTS OF A NEGATIVE INNER CRITIC
It’s obvious that the inner critic is our own worst enemy, deterring us from going after what we want and deserve. The negative inner critic impacts our overall mental well-being and due to its cruel and damaging nature we are stuck with feelings of:
- helplessness and hopelessness
- low self-esteem
- emotional lows
- no or disrespected boundaries
… and the list goes on
While it is evident that a negative inner critic is of no use to us, how can we start taming it?
HERE ARE 4 STEPS TO START TAMING YOUR INNER CRITIC
Be mindful of your inner dialogue: this creates awareness of what those messages are that support your beliefs and your behaviours by becoming aware of that inner dialogue. You are more empowered to start changing the story – a new and true narrative.
Ask yourself what are those judgemental things and thoughts that I keep saying to myself?
Examine the evidence: Once you ask yourself what the thoughts are that keep popping up, ask yourself how true they actually are; i.e. what is the evidence that supports that?
For example: if you believe that you are not good enough, in spite of having a string of degrees or specific qualifications, work and/or life experience and you’re good at your job (your colleagues/bosses trust and value your work), what is the evidence that supports the belief that you’re not good enough?
However, you keep hearing that voice in your head despite all the evidence. Or you’re constantly comparing yourself to others in order to determine whether you are good enough. You may also be a people pleaser to prove that you’re good enough. The truth lies in the evidence.
BRINGING IN THE NEW
Replace with accurate and empowering statements: so once you examine the evidence, what is the truth? How do you integrate these truths into your new beliefs about yourself? You could start simply saying to yourself and believing that:
- “I am consistently working towards what I want to achieve”
- “I am constantly in a process of learning and growing”
- “My value system drives the quality of my behaviour”
Self-compassion: this is the foundation of taming that inner critic. Remember, we were raised to be judgmental of ourselves, we were raised to hide our imperfections and the areas that we are not very good at. Now the challenge is to practice self-compassion.
What does that mean? Self-compassion is about accepting who and where you are right now without judgement. Believing that you are changing the story and that you can and deserve to change the story to what you want it to be – to what evidence supports your truth.
I’ve offered 4 steps to start taming that inner critic. And while the big goal is to retrain the overbearing, critical, negative, destructive, judgmental, demeaning inner critic to a supportive, gentle, nurturing, soft-feeling and empowering cheerleader, there is much deeper work that needs to happen for this to change. As I’ve explained above, the inner critic’s roots run deep.
Think about it: if your inner critic was a parent and you were the child would you speak to your child that way? I don’t think so, you don’t deserve that. If you’re wanting to do this inner work and start your journey of switching your inner critic from judgmental and critical to supportive and nurturing, let’s have a chat.
Remember, this is your life which means your rules. Don’t stay trapped in that invisible straightjacket that keeps your inner awesome trapped.
I would love to hear how you’re getting on with this or perhaps your struggles with making the shift.