How to Handle Your Inner Critic

1 Aug ‘22
6 min
Editorial Board OpenUp
Reviewed by psychologist Madelief Falkmann
Know that voice in your head that keeps knocking you down and telling you that you’re not good enough? This demanding busybody is constantly pointing out what you’re doing wrong, what you could be doing differently, and all the times you’ve failed. It has all sorts of opinions about you and holds you to the highest standards. This is your inner critic: A stubborn little voice that particularly likes to make itself heard at moments when you’re feeling insecure.

 

Is your inner critic getting in the way of how you want to live your life? Then it’s important to be able to recognize it and to learn how to communicate with it in a constructive manner. Because if you do this, you can get it to work for you instead of against you.

 

Everyone has an inner critic

 

Your inner critic can cause you a lot of distress. If it comes to the surface too often, it can even hold you back in terms of your personal development and the dreams you want to pursue.

 

Everybody has an inner critic, even if it isn’t a problem for everybody. However, it tends to be the case that the inner critic is almost always present when you’re experiencing symptoms of poor mental health.

 

Let’s look at burnout, for example. People dealing with this are very critical of themselves, they set the bar too high and – in their eyes – are always falling short. Perfectionism and the inner critic go hand-in-hand.

 

✨ Comparing ourselves to others: Why we do it and what to do instead

 

The inner critic serves a purpose

 

It can be quite difficult to live with this voice in your head that constantly tells you what you’re doing wrong. But you actually need your inner critic. It encourages you to develop as a person, improve and correct your behaviour. It can also protect you from danger and behaviours that might get you into trouble.

 

Your inner critic stems from your childhood and was initially a self-protection mechanism designed to shield you from disappointment, sadness, and rejection.

 

It teaches you what you “have” to do and what is the correct behaviour according to the social norms of your parents or the group you want to belong to, so that you won’t be rejected or left out.

 

An overactive inner critic

 

Now that you’re an adult, you don’t really need this critical “teacher” anymore. Sometimes it might offer some useful insights, but if your inner critic gets out of hand, it can have a serious impact on your life.

 

An ever-present critical voice in your mind, devours your energy, leading to insecurity, frustration, stress, and other negative emotions.

 

Even if its way of communicating isn’t always helpful or good for your self-confidence, remember that your inner critic is only looking out for you.

 

When it keeps grumbling and being disapproving, it’s only natural that you’ll want to push it away or fight back, but bear in mind that this is usually counterproductive and only makes you more critical of yourself.

 

The trick is learning to listen and communicate with your inner voice, so that it will be softer on you and act like an inspiring coach.

 

From self-criticism to self-compassion: 4 tips

 

How can you make friends with that critical voice in your head?

 

1. Become aware of your inner critic and observe it

 

Step one is becoming aware of that critical voice in your mind. Act as a benevolent researcher and observe your thoughts and patterns. Grab a notebook and write down the ways you think about yourself and which negative thoughts about yourself keep popping up in certain situations.

 

Observing your inner critic can be quite confronting, particularly in the beginning. During the process, keep reminding yourself that it’s “just” a voice in your head and not who you truly are.

 

It can help to give your critic a name and to call it by that name every time you notice it: “Well, look at that, there’s Bridget the Critic again”. This will help you to gain perspective, organize your thoughts, and create some distance from all the noise in your head, ultimately rendering your critic less powerful.

 

👉 Try reading: Imposter Syndrome, How to Avoid Feeling that You’re Not Good Enough

 

2. Engage with your critic and question it

 

Have you mapped out the dismissive and limiting things that you think about yourself? Then it’s time to engage with your inner critic.

 

Remember that your inner critic wants what’s best for you, so question it in a loving way. What exactly is it trying to tell you? What is it worried about?

 

Also, ask yourself whether the things it’s telling you are actually true. Do you have to believe it? When you question your inner critic, you’ll start to see that the reality often isn’t what you think it is.

 

A great way to disable your inner critic is using “The Work” by American speaker and author Byron Katie. By asking yourself four questions, you can remove the negative charge from your inner critic and meet the world with fresh eyes.

 

3. Choose helpful thoughts

 

Can you replace the negative beliefs and thoughts that you’ve been telling yourself with helpful thoughts, such as “I am fine just as I am”, “I don’t have to do things perfectly”, or “it’s okay not to know everything all the time”? Your critic will learn to trust you, which means that its voice will become kinder.

 

A great “trick” is to think about what you’d say to a good friend. For example, if you’re beating yourself up because you arrived late to a work meeting, don’t say: “How could you do that, you’re such a bad person!”. Instead say: “I know that you did your best to make the appointment, but it just didn’t work out. It happens to the best of us, right? The other person really didn’t mind having to wait five minutes.”

 

Have you found that it’s not always easy to shift your thoughts? It also helps if you don’t take your thoughts so seriously. Think: “Oh, I’m having self-critical thoughts again. That’s fine, but I don’t have to let them control me”. This way you’ll create some distance between yourself and your inner critic.

 

4. Thank your critic

 

You now know that your inner critic only wants what’s best for you and that it exists to protect you. In many ways, you can view it as a scared little kid that you carry around in your brain. It’s just worried about you and you can thank it for that.

 

What’s more, your inner critic still has things to teach you. In which parts of your life could you learn to be kinder to yourself? And where might you want to change things?

 

By being grateful for the messages your inner critic is giving you, instead of feeling attacked by them, you’ll learn more about yourself, and this will gradually help you to grow and develop as a person.

 

Embracing your inner critic

 

When you have a better understanding of your inner critic and you start looking at that little voice in your head with more compassion, it creates more peace, fulfilment and acceptance in your life. You’ll start feeling freer to be who you are and do what you’re good at.

 

Are you struggling to do this alone and would you like some help? Then schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists.

 

💡 Also related: Why Negative Thoughts and Feelings Are Good For You Too