Silencing Your Inner Critic
December 10, 2015
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Silencing your inner critic, photo: Hush by LaVladina at FlickrPhoto Credit: LaVladina

The Inner Critic

Your inner voice is comprised of the self-talk that you engage in on a daily basis. The Mayo Clinic describes self-talk as the way that you talk to yourself inside of your head, negative or positive. Many experts believe that the inner voice begins to emerge around 12-18 months of age, which coincides with the development of language. Infants younger than 12 months are unable to effectively comprehend language, therefore they are unable to cultivate an inner voice. However, as they enter into toddlerhood and begin to more readily grasp language, they also begin to experience their inner voice.

The inner voice can be validating and loving which contributes to a high self-esteem. Unfortunately, it can also be punitive and critical, which can result in feelings of shame, deficiency and depression. This harsh inner voice is what is referred to as the “inner critic” and can be quite debilitating for many people.

Experts cannot pinpoint the specific moment when it occurs, but some speculate that the inner critic begins to emerge when a child is first able to process the word “no.” It is believed that he/she then associates the word “no” with her parent’s displeasure with her dangerous or undesirable behavior (e.g., the parent says “no” to keep the child safe and the child perceives this as disapproval).  Of course, responsible parenting requires that a parent says “no” sometimes so that the child is able to develop a healthy superego that alerts her to danger. However, as the child grows and is exposed to repeated criticism for behavior that is not really dangerous, she may begin to develop a pattern of persistent negative self-talk.

The frequency and intensity of one’s inner critic varies is based upon the individual’s personal history, including early experiences with caretakers. Unfortunately, later interactions with teachers, peers, friends, and other people who she interacts with on a regular basis may reinforce the inner critic. For example, the child who was raised in a supportive home with parents who encouraged him to learn from his mistakes may experience less frequent and less intense negative self-talk as an adult. However, the person who lived in an environment that was invalidating and critical may experience more frequent and intense negative self-talk. Interestingly, even seemingly “helpful” comments that are critical in nature can increase the intensity of one’s inner critic. Take for example the father who criticizes his son’s soccer performance every time he misses a goal. Although the father may be trying to be helpful, his son may internalize the comments as meaning that he is not good enough. Then imagine how the Coach could potentially reinforce the negative image that the child is experiencing. Eventually the child may begin to believe these negative comments and this internalization becomes the foundation for the inner critic.

A great way to monitor the type of self-talk that your child engages in is to listen to her during play. Often the way that she talks to herself, her friends, or her imaginary friends during play can give you an idea of what she’s saying to herself on a regular basis. Also, in order to help facilitate healthier self-talk in children, it’s important that you show even more love after disciplining your child. Also, avoid saying things that you may regret when you’re angry and only label your child’s behavior, never your child personally. Remember, what you say DOES matter!

Examples of Negative Self-Talk

Keep in mind that the negative self-talk (that is essentially one’s inner critic) always presents itself as frustrated, critical, or expressing disapproval. Here are some examples of negative self-talk that may be apparent when the inner critic is activated:

“What’s wrong with you?”

“You always get it wrong.”

“You should have done it differently.”

“Why can’t you ever get it right?”

“Why aren’t you more like _____?”

If you find yourself frequently battling negative self-talk, then you probably experience a significant amount of self-shaming and anxiety. This can be quite debilitating and may interfere with the quality of your life. For example, you may begin to avoid doing things that could be beneficial for you because you are afraid of failure. Similarly, you may begin to engage in self-destructive behaviors like overeating, using drugs, over spending, engaging in excessive sexual activity or other ineffective behavior in an effort to self-soothe. Unfortunately, your inner critic could prevent you from living the satisfied life that you deserve. Therefore, it’s extremely important for you to learn the skills that will help you quiet that negative inner voice.

3 Tips to help get your inner critic under control:

1.) Pay attention to how you feel. The first step in quieting the inner voice is being aware of its presence. Your inner critic has been with you since you were a young child and often remains in your subconscious until it is triggered. When something happens that you dislike, it often makes its appearance without your conscious awareness. Therefore, it’s important for you to train yourself to be aware of when the negative self-talk is present. Often, the way that you feel is a great indicator of what kind of self-talk you are experiencing. If you feel great, then you’re probably engaging in supportive and loving self-talk. However, if you’re feeling anxious, depressed, numb, or distracted, then you may want to pay some attention to what you’re saying to yourself. Your inner critic is likely hard at work. Keeping a journal is a great way to regularly monitor how you’re feeling. Every time you realize that you’re starting to feel bad, write down what you’re feeling. Just write down the emotion that you are experiencing using words such as sad, angry, jealous, etc. Writing down what you are feeling allows you to acknowledge that something is wrong so that you can then explore the thoughts that are sustaining the negative emotions.  However, be sure that you’re not being critical of yourself during this process. You want to be curious about why you’re feeling this way, not critical.

2.) Acknowledge the chatter. Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, then it’s time to explore what thoughts are sustaining that feeling. Ask yourself questions like, “Why am I feeling bad?” “What does it mean when things like this happen?” “What does this mean about me?” Often the first responses to these questions are quite superficial, so you have to give yourself room to dig deeper. Keep asking yourself “What else?” until you get to the root cause. For example, if you find yourself being angry with yourself for forgetting an appointment regarding your child, you may initially say “I’m angry because I forgot the appointment.” After asking yourself “What else?” a few times, you may find that you actually think that you’re an awful parent and not worthy of being a mother. Those thoughts are your inner critic in action. When you’re exploring the chatter, be sure to write down the answers to the questions that you ask yourself in your journal; this way you will be able to see if patterns occur. Remember, it’s very important that you don’t try to avoid the negative chatter. It’s only when you explore these thoughts that you can begin to replace them with more helpful thinking patterns.

3.) Ask yourself, “What would I tell my best friend?” I bet you’re much harder on yourself than you are on your friends. Therefore, one of the most effective ways of quickly silencing your inner critic is to ask yourself this one simple question, “What would I tell my best friend if this happened to her?” Taking the same example from above; if your friend forgot about her child’s appointment, would you say to her, “Oh my goodness, you’re the worst mother ever!” Not likely. You’d probably say something much gentler (and much more based in reality) such as, “Don’t beat yourself up, Sue. We all miss appointments sometimes. That doesn’t make you a bad mother; it makes you a human.” When you find your inner critic berating you, ask yourself how you would respond to your friend if she was making those same statements about herself.

In Summary:

Your inner critic produces thinking errors that are developed in toddlerhood and reinforced throughout your life. Over time these distorted thoughts become beliefs, and they emerge whenever it seems that you have not performed perfectly. Unfortunately, these unhelpful thoughts produce an exaggerated reaction that results in negative feelings and nonproductive behavior. However, when you consistently treat yourself the way that you would treat your friend, you can quickly move back into more reality-based thinking. Ultimately, when you treat yourself with the same gentleness and understanding that you treat your friends, that inner critic will quickly go back into hiding so that you can live the more satisfying life that you deserve.

About this Contributor: Aysha Ives, M.S. has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and has provided services as a Therapist and Success Coach for over a decade. With a love for God and a passion to help as many people as possible, she has expanded her services to include Professional Writing with specializations in Mental Health, Behavioral Health, and Spirituality. Aysha has published three books and has served as a Contributor for HealthyPsych.com, Psych Central, wikiHow, Insight Telepsychiatry, Mind Over Media, LLC, various churches and other private clients. You can learn more about Aysha and purchase her books by visiting Aysha’s Author Page on Amazon. You can also find Aysha on her website at www.livingoutloudinternational.com


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