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  • Writer's pictureJulie Burn

It's Time to Silence the Inner Critic

You know that little voice inside of you? You know the one. The one eager to tell you that "You've screwed up again", "No-one will ever love you", "You look ridiculous in those jeans", or "You're such an idiot". Well, we all have that voice. Its complaints vary from person to person, but is always negative and in counselling we refer to it as our irrational or critical voice. Often, because of longstanding beliefs we have about ourselves, which may have been with us since we were children, this pervasive and critical inner voice can be very destructive.

Maybe growing up, a parent told you you were "lazy" or "bad". A teacher may have discouraged you from applying for university saying you just weren't"university material", or an ex-partner may have criticised your figure or called you "Stupid". Most of us, at some point in our lives, may have been exposed to such messages and because of our tendency toward negativity bias, they often stick.

A comment is made, a seed of doubt planted in our minds. We begin to look more closely at our tummy in the mirror, or the slight bump on our nose. We start to compare ourselves to our friends who all seem slimmer, cleverer and happier than we do. Every time we make a mistake or forget something, we start to call ourselves, "useless" or "such an idiot". We begin to think maybe we aren't university material and our ambitions and dreams seem out of reach. We begin to settle for less.

At the root of every critical/negative thought we have about ourselves is the belief that somehow we are not good enough. Not a good enough friend, student, son or daughter, not pretty or handsome enough, not clever enough, not slim enough, not popular enough, or funny enough...and on and on it goes. You fill in the blanks. Many of us have believed this inner critic for years. In fact we don't even notice it. But it effects us and our lives. Believing such things about ourselves means we can lose confidence in ourself and our abilities and may be frightened to try new things, or ask someone out for fear of rejection. We might not follow our career dreams if we believe we aren't good enough and will only fail. Our self-esteem may plummet if we think we are ugly or if we constantly compare ourselves to airbrushed images of perfection on social media.

So how can we help ourselves to stop the insanity and get off the self-criticism train?

  • Notice you do this. When a client comes to see me with poor self-esteem and lack of self-worth, I ask them to start to notice every time they have a critical thought about themselves, and to write it down. Shock and disbelief can be a common reaction to this exercise, as one client commented, "I had no idea I was so mean to myself. It's relentless."

  • Ask Questions. Start to question the truth of every negative statement you make about yourself. For example: Take the belief, "Nobody likes me". Ask yourself, "Is this true?" Be honest with yourself, "Is this statement absolutely 100% true?" Usually the answer is "No". This kind of thought is a generalisation. List the folks who do like you, your family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours... there will be many. When we start to question the truth of any negative thought we believe, we start to see how irrational much of our critical thinking can be.

  • Replace the irrational thought with a more realistic one. Take a piece of paper. Draw a line down the middle. Label the left column "Automatic Thought", label the right side, "Alternative Thought". When you notice yourself being critical, write down the belief in the left column. There might be a few. Question the validity of these thoughts, come up with alternative, more realistic thoughts and write them down in the right column. For example, take the belief: "I'm unloveable. Nobody will ever want to date me". Question the truth of this thought. List the people who do love you. Remember past relationships, those you have dated who did find you loveable, then think of a more realistic thought, "Many people find me loveable. I am worthy of love and am open to new relationships coming my way".

  • Name the Inner Critic. Some clients find it helpful to personify their critical voice. Give it a name. Separate it from yourself. Imagine what it looks like, what is it called? Often there is a person in a book or from a movie, usually a baddie, that we can bring to mind when our inner critic starts up. Talk it down, "Oh hey, Shannon. You again! I know you think I'm too stupid to apply for that job, but it's fine. I've got this. You don't need to worry. You can go away for now. I'll let you know when I need your input". This can be quite empowering. Being assertive with your inner critic, which you now see as separate to you, gives you the upper hand and control over what you choose to believe about yourself.

Remember, we all have inner critics, but we don't have to mindlessly believe every criticism they throw our way. Notice, challenge, think of alternatives and send that critic packing. Would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself? Of course not! If you did, you would have no friends left. Show yourself some compassion, notice the good things about yourself. Be kind. You are worth it.

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