We all have a critical inner voice that sometimes rears its ugly head and tells us horrible things about ourselves or others.
You fail your driving test and the inner critic says
'I knew you wouldn’t pass your such a useless driver'
You forget your friends birthday your inner critic says
'how could you be so stupid and cruel to forget your friends birthday, she'll probably never talk to you again'.
However we can often know these thoughts aren’t true and can talk to ourselves in a kinder way
'Never mind I failed my test I can try again and I'm sure I will pass this time'
'My friend won't mind I missed her birthday, she knows I usually remember and this is just a one off, she won't stop being my friend because of it'
However if this inner critical voice is constant and you are unable to stop it, it undermines you constantly and interferes in you being able to lead the life you would like to lead, then it is a problem and you need to do something about it.
A consistent critical inner voice is an internal enemy that can affect every aspect of your life, including your self-esteem and confidence, your personal and intimate relationships, and your performance and accomplishments at school and work.
Your inner critic undermines your positive feelings about yourself and others and fosters self-criticism, low self esteem and self worth and distrust of others
Where did your inner critical voice come from?
These inner voices usually come from early life experiences that you have internalized and then you turn them into ways that you think about yourself.
Often, many of these negative voices come from our parents or other adult role models, as children we pick up on the negative attitudes that they have towards us. I'm not saying they always do it intentionally but they are not realising how often you are picking up these messages about yourself
If everytime you bought a painting home from school hoping your Mum would put the painting on the fridge door like your friends Mums, but instead your Mum says, that’s rubbish and throws it in the bin-you receive the message you are no good at art and you are not as good as your friends
You are told at school that your stupid when you don’t get something right and this happens every time you get something wrong-you receive a consistent message you are stupid.
You are always told that your older sibling is better than you and you will never match up to them- you receive the message that you will never be as good as people who are above you
These consistent negative comments that you receive then become part of your inner dialogue about yourself and so your critical inner voice is born.
Children also pick up negative views that the parents have of themselves and believe these to be true, they can then become messages that you believe about yourself
Maybe Mum is constantly saying she is overweight and that she can only eat salads- you believe this to be true and believe yourself to be overweight and have to be strict with your diet
Maybe Dad says I’m not recognised at work and so I have to work all the hours to prove myself and get the next promotion-you believe the only way to get on in life is too work extra hard.
You hear and see these messages and believe this is how life needs to be and if things happen in your life that do not fit your belief you use these messages as your own inner critic.
If you are bullied as a child and told your ugly, stupid, no one wants to be your friend you will start to believe these messages.
So Your inner critical voice will use similar phrases to those that you heard regularly in childhood.
What can you do to conquer this inner critic?
1. Identify the critical voice
The easiest way to identify the voice is to become aware of your internal commentary and judgement of the outside environment.
How do you talk about yourself and others is it in a kind and caring way or are you being judgemental and criticising yourself and others consistently
Once you have identified it, you can start to become aware of the comments and judgments it makes about yourself.
Pay particular attention to when you suddenly slip into a bad mood, become upset or angry, the thoughts that cause you to feel bad or change mood will usually be your inner critical voice
2. Reframe your thoughts and speak more kindly to yourself
In counselling we use what we call a Thought Record that helps you look at your thoughts in a different way gathering the evidence and the facts that support your inner critic and the evidence and facts that disprove the inner critic.
We then reframe the words you say to be kinder and more helpful to yourself
Your inner critic is a bully and only wants to hurt you and your response to it is negative emotions.
By reframing what you say and making the words you speak to yourself kinder and more compassionate your response is a more positive emotion
2. Change how you act on the critical voice
For example, at a party you see someone that you want to introduce yourself to. However your critical voice might comment; 'that person would not want to speak to someone like you'.
How has your inner critical voice formed that opinion if you have never even spoken to that person before.
If you find it more effective, actually tell yourself this.
You could take it a step further and say I'm not listening to you there are no evidence or facts to back up what you are saying and go and introduce yourself to that person.
Remember the critical voice also encourages you to take part in destructive behavior.
At that same party it might be encouraging you to have one to many drinks.
This could be challenged with considering that you have enough personality to interact with friends without another drink and you will feel better in the morning.
3. Use the THINKS acronym
T is it true
H is it helpful
I is it inspiring
N is it necessary
K is it Kind
S is it something a friend would say to me
Then change what you are saying to yourself so that it is all these things
4. Externalise the inner critic
Bring the thoughts out of your head and make them more real.
There are number of different strategies you can engage to do this
A) Imagine a devil on one shoulder an angel the other and choose to listen to the angel
B) Turn the voice into a monster and visualise that monster speaking to you not yourself
C) Visualise your thoughts as a friend walking alongside you holding your hand, when they say hateful or untrue things to you think about whether you really want them walking along beside you. If it was a real friend you would soon get rid of them and replace them with a friend who was kinder to you and spoke to you in an encouraging and kind way.
D) Who's voice is this really, can you recall who's words you are saying, who do they remind you of, is it that bully from the past? then replace your inner critical voice with their voice.
5. Imagine someone you love and who appreciates you and loves you for who you are,
We all have someone in our life who tells us the good things about ourselves, or spoils us, or makes us feel good because of how they treat us.
Think about any pet name they may have for you or the endearments they use when they are with you ie darling, sweetheart etc
When you are hearing your inner critic recall that person to mind and imagine them talking to you in the moment what would they be telling you and how would they be kind to you over what happened.
Use the words that they use
ie When you inner critic is saying oh your so stupid for doing that
think of them saying to you
'That’s ok it doesn’t matter that happened I still love you for who you are sweatheart'
5. Seek professional help
As a qualified counselor I have helped many people understandu their internal world and their tendencies to negative thought patterns and behavior.
A course of therapy provides you with a safe space to explore the origins of the critical inner voice and help you work with ways that change how you speak to yourself
Being able to move away from that inner critical voice and find how you can be more compassionate with yourself and talk to yourself with kinder words is essential for ridding yourself of your inner critical voice.
It can be difficult, it's almost like learning a new language, you’ve always spoken to yourself in a hateful and critical way and now your trying to learn the words and phrases that allow you to talk to yourself in a more compassionate and kind way.
At first you may find this really difficult almost like moving from speaking english to yourself to talking French to yourself, it's not going to happen overnight, that is where counselling can help support you.
With change comes anxiety, and getting rid of an inner critic is no exception. Often, when you begin to challenge your negative attacks on yourself and act against the inner critics directives, the inner critics voice may become louder because of the resistance to obey, it's used to you listening to it and acting in a way that has almost become normal for you so you may attack yourself for not doing what you’ve always done.
It is also uncomfortable, because although your trying to be kinder to yourself this is a foreign feeling for you and so some help and support along the way can be very useful to you to help you not give up and give in to the inner critic again.
Sometimes it may be that you need to learn that although your critical thoughts are unpleasant, actually you can find a way to be comfortable "living with" them because you understand why they are their and instead of fighting them you learn to accept them.
So if you feel your inner critical voice has been holding you back, think about how to be kinder to yourself and how to start reframing some of those thoughts and even challenging that voice.
If you struggle then reach out to a counsellor to help you find ways to succeed.
Laura Knight is a qualified and experienced Counsellor and a registered member of BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)
She is an approved Anxiety UK Therapist and has her own private practice SeeClear Counselling, in Poole Dorset.
She can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling sessions
Laura also spent some time working with Dorset Mind delivering education to local employers on how to identify and manage stress at work reducing the impact that work stress can have on peoples every day lives.
Laura found that many of her clients would present with Anxiety and because of this enhanced her training to include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as there is evidence to suggest that CBT is effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression.
Laura now focuses on working with adults who struggle with Anxiety within her private practice, working with them to reduce the scary physical and emotional symptoms they experience and help them change their negative thinking patterns so they can lead a calmer life.
For more information about Laura please visit her website https://www.seeclearcounselling.co.uk
Or visit her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/seeclearcounselling
She also runs an Anxiety Support group on Facebook which you can ask to join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/beatinganxiety
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