When I launched this website, I felt happy that I had achieved something worthwhile, that could help others to understand and manage their mental health and well-being. However, this feeling did not last very long, I woke up next morning to an inner voice saying, “Who do you think you are?”, “ What makes you think you can write?”, Why would anyone want to read what you have to say? “
Does this sound familiar?
Have you had times in your life when you have done well or achieved something you felt good about, when the voice inside your head tells you, “It’s no big deal” or “It’s not so great”, causing you to play down your achievements. Have you ever made a decision to try something new or make some changes in your life, and your inner voice pipes up to remind you, “there’s no point”, “it won’t work out for you”, and this leads to you not even trying?
If you have experienced this, it is your inner critic hard at work. While your inner critic originally developed to protect you and can be useful in motivating you to try hard and do things well, it often sets impossibly high standards that you cannot possibly live up to and then makes you feel like a failure when you don’t achieve them.
Where Does The Inner Critic Come From?
Your inner critic has developed from direct and subconscious messages you have picked up throughout your life, from people who had influence over you. This can include, parents, siblings, peers, teachers, colleagues or managers at work.
Often these people such as your parents had your best interests at heart and were really trying to encourage you to be your best, but the message got mixed up along the way and you interpreted as not being good enough, or feeling you had to reach certain standards of achievement to be accepted for who you are.
Your inner critic can also be impacted by rules and expectations of the culture and society you live in and by your exposure to advertising and social media,which gives a subtle underlying message about the need to be perfect all of the time.
“We are not our inner critical thoughts, we are so so much more” Denise Jacobs
Signs that your inner critic is hard at work:
Some people’s inner critic is much noisier and busier than others, but everyone has it to some extent. The inner critic has strength and power because it knows your inner fears and insecurities so well and uses them to make you feel guilty or inadequate. Some of the feelings invoked by the inner critic include:
Low self-esteem, feeling not good enough or undeserving of good things that happen to you.
Feeling you have to prove yourself over and over again, in work or in your personal life, leaving you drained and exhausted.
Fear of stepping outside your comfort zone in case you fail or look foolish.
Minimising your achievements, even when others recognise and acknowledge them.
Having lots of should’s in your life, feeling like you should always be trying harder and doing more.
Deep down you believe that if people knew the real you, they would not like you.
You are very vulnerable to external criticism and really take it to heart.
If this all sounds exhausting, it’s because it is, your inner critic can really have a negative impact on your peace of mind and mental well-being.
How To Quieten Your Inner Critic
1. Be Aware of It
Develop an awareness of your inner critic by becoming more aware of your thoughts. When you notice the inner critic finding fault with you or something that you are doing/or not doing, notice this and acknowledge to yourself that this is your inner critic at work and the things it is saying are not necessarily true.
2. Question it
Start to question what your inner critic is saying. Sometimes, it may motivate you to take action when you need to, but often the criticism is not accurate. Look for evidence that what the inner critic is telling you it is not accurate.
For example if you make a mistake in your job or you do something as a parent that you are not too happy with, your inner critic may try to tell you that you are a total failure at your job or at parenting. Learn to question this and think about all the times you have done well in these situations. In this way, you can acknowledge when you make a mistake, learn from it and move on rather than seeing it as proof that you are a failure.
3. Name it
Many people find it helpful to name their inner critic, and view it in the third person. You can call it an actual name or consider it like being a troll or a gremlin that you have a choice not to listen to.
When the inner critic is giving you a hard time, acknowledge it’s presence but say to yourself, my inner critic is not being helpful and I don’t have to listen. See it for what it really is, just a series of thoughts running through your head, and not a reflection of who you are.
3. Challenge It
Try not to obey your inner critic. Get used to pushing through, e.g your inner critic may tell you, “there is no point in trying to do something, because you will fail.”
Think of times when you did stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone and it worked out well. This is evidence that the inner critic is not always right. The more you do this,the more you will start to believe in yourself and know that you can step outside of your comfort zone and most of the time it will turn out ok and if not at least you will have tried.
“Anyone Who Attempts Is Not A Failure” Sarah Dessen
5. Distract Yourself
When you find yourself overthinking or ruminating on the criticisms being aimed at you by your inner critic and you are finding it hard to stop the cycle, have some tools that you can use to distract yourself.
Any activity that puts you in the flow,(walking, running, cycling, gardening, knitting, writing, drawing) whatever works for you, will help to distract you from your inner critic. This is not running away from your thoughts and feelings,but deciding to put them aside in favour of doing something positive to make you feel good.
6. Try Not To Compare Yourself To Others
Your inner critic can try to make you feel like a failure by comparing you to others in a negative way. This is very unhelpful for your mental well-being, because there will always be people who you feel have achieved more or done better than you.
Remember with others you are only seeing the outcomes not the process of what it has taken for people to get to where they are. They may have overcome many obstacles to get to where they are, or they may naturally have had a better support network or more access to opportunities.
Try to recognise areas you have been successful, e.g you may not be materially wealthy, but you might have the joys of having really good quality friendships or close family relationships. You may not have achieved as much as you would like to in your career, but you may have changed jobs a few times either through choice or necessity.
7. Know Your Triggers
Start to recognise people and situations that are more likely to trigger your inner critic. Sometimes, you perceive you are being judged by others when you are not, it is important to be aware of this. However, if there are people in your life who are judgmental or critical and make you feel inadequate, then it might be wise to limit the amount of time you spend around these people.
8. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is learning to be in the moment, accepting how you feel without judgement, It is learning to observe your thoughts and let them pass by without getting over involved. Regular practice will help with emotional balance, leaving you stronger to deal with your inner critic.
One-Minute Mindfulness Exercise
Stand or sit still for a minute.
Bring your awareness to your breathing.
Take a few breaths slowly and deeply in and out.
If you feel your mind wandering, bring your attention back to your breathing.
Notice any areas of tension in your body.
Breathe deeply into these areas until they begin to relax.
9. Practice Self-Compassion
Don’t beat yourself up for listening to your inner critic. This is something you have been doing for most of your life and it can be difficult to break the cycle. Instead, treat yourself as you would a good friend, be supportive and empathetic towards yourself on your journey towards quietening you inner critic.
When you are working on quietening your inner critic, bear in mind that it has been with you for a long time, so it will not disappear overnight.
It will take time and patience to peel away all of the layers that have built up over the years. It is worth putting in the effort to reduce the power of your inner critic so you can improve your mental well-being and feel happier and more at ease with yourself.
Try to see yourself as a work in progress, growing and changing all of the time, learning from your mistakes and moving forward.
Note: The content here is supportive and advisory, but is not intended to replace professional therapeutic interventions. If you are struggling with serious mental health issues, please see a professional, or consult the resources section of this blog for a directory of helpful services.