We all know it … that niggly little voice in our head … just as we’re about to try something new or step out of our comfort zone … there it is, twittering (or sometimes even growling) in our ear: You’ll fail. You’ll be laughed at. Who do you think you are? They’ll find out you’re not up to the job. And so it goes on … And oh how our inner critic loves reminding us of all our past shortcomings, giving us derogatory labels and ’reminding’ us of our flaws. And if we hand the reins over to our inner bully, those persistent negative thoughts can keep us stuck: too scared to reach for our dreams or unable to break free from unwanted circumstances. Before we know it we regularly doubt and neglect ourselves, experience constant anxiety and play down our own accomplishments while we put other people on a pedestal.
There may be no way to eliminate our inner critic completely, but we can definitely lessen its power over us with a few nifty tricks.
Get to know your inner critic
When our thoughts run on autopilot, it can be difficult to stop and question them. In order to counter our inner critic’s attacks, it’s helpful to be more conscious of its presence. Look for the feelings – like anxiety and fear – that often accompany the assaults, and pay closer attention to your thoughts in those moments.
The inner critic loves to make sweeping comments like ‘nothing ever works out for me, so there’s no point in trying‘, and instead of looking at a situation at hand, it will present everything as evidence that we’re not good enough: instead of thinking ‘that presentation today didn’t go that well, maybe I could have prepared for it a bit better‘, our inner commentary goes ‘I’m completely useless’.
When we become more aware of the language our inner critic uses, we may start to notice patterns. There are probably a handful of things it loves to repeat over and over again – take a note of these for later.
Understand your inner critic
Our inner critic would have us believe that its intervention is the only thing standing between us and endless bad decisions. It tells us that it’s really there to motivate and help us better ourselves while it gets busy tearing us down. Though its methods are anything but supportive, in its own twisted way, our inner critic is trying to help us. Having grown from the emotional wounds we experienced growing up, it tries to keep us from risking more hurtful experiences – failure, humiliation and disappointments – with its negative chatter.
Knowing that our inner critic is essentially a hypersensitive pain-avoidance mechanism fuelled by fear, we can begin to take its messages with a pinch of salt. Instead of trying to fight or silence the tirades, try listening with compassion. Ask your inner critic what it’s trying to protect you from and thank it for attempting to help you. Offer your reassurance that you’re able to handle your life and that you now know that even disappointments offer opportunities for growth and learning.
Put its critical messages into perspective
Though our inner critic is likely to be a permanent fixture in our lives, we can diminish its hold on us by putting its feedback firmly into perspective. Since our inner critic grew out of our most painful experiences, we know that it’s only one part of us and offers only one point of view – and probably not the most reliable one at that. Many of our inner critic’s fears and concerns are outmoded and don’t reflect our current reality. We can choose whether we take its evaluation of us on board or not.
Next time your inner critic tries to frighten you with a worst case scenario, ground yourself by remembering that there’s also the best case scenario and everything in between … Soften the blows by reframing them: if you catch yourself thinking ‘I can’t do anything right!‘, pause and remind yourself that on the whole you’re doing pretty well and that absolutely everyone makes mistakes. And instead of retreating from a challenge when your inner critic tells you’re not up to the task, let it know that you can only find out for sure if you try.
Build yourself up
Finally, we can build our resilience against our inner critic by feeding our mind with supportive messages.
Affirmations work the best when we make statements that we can truly belief, especially when we use them to counter the scything remarks of an inner critic. Note down any criticisms that your inner critic keeps repeating and match them with a positive affirmation. Try countering ‘I’m so lazy‘ with ‘The better care I take of myself, the more productive I am.‘
Enlist an inner champion
How would someone who loves and values you talk to you? They would likely speak of your strengths and remind you of your successes. However quiet it’s kept lately, we all have a supportive inner champion (or a cheerleader or a mentor, if you like). Whenever your inner critic starts to put you down, ask yourself ‘what would my inner champion say about this?’ While our inner critic is quick to urge us not to risk making a fool of ourselves, our inner champion will point out the times when trying new things really boosted our confidence. Turning to our inner champion may feel alien at first, but if we persist, its reassuring voice can begin to tip the balance from fear-based living to greater confidence in ourselves.
Don’t forget your real-life champions either: accept compliments and praise when they come your way and believe your friends when they tell you that they believe in you and your talents!
And when you get the jitters again despite all your efforts to believe in yourself… remember that fears and doubts are universal, and that even some of the most successful and influential people from the former US First Lady Michelle Obama to the celebrated British actress Emma Watson have spoken of their struggles with insecurities – yet it hasn’t stopped them from achieving great things.2