Have you ever told yourself that you don’t deserve something? Or that there’s no way you will accomplish the goal you are aspiring to? Negative thoughts like these can often be fueled by our inner voice, our own worst critic. The narrative you tell yourself has a real impact on how you feel and behave in the world and so it is helpful to have an understanding of what it is, where it comes from, and how to lower its impact.
The inner critic tells us why we aren’t good enough and over time we unconsciously accept these reasons as fact. A form of self-sabotage, this can really damage our self-confidence and create a cycle of self-doubt and blame as well as reducing motivation. In certain situations it can lead to an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, and in extreme cases cause feelings of anxiety. Taylor Swift news song ‘Anti-Hero’ is a good articulation of these experiences. Swift details her shortcomings and also references how exhausting living life in this way can be.
As a first step in breaking this cycle, you should pay attention to noticing when you have these thoughts. Is it every time you talk to a particular person? Or maybe it’s more a place or event that triggers these thoughts? Once you acknowledge situations where your inner critic appears, you can pre-empt when it may next occur and implement a strategy to replace the negative thoughts. It is critical to show your inner critic compassion when it raises its head, and respond the way you would to a friend if they shared these thoughts with you.
Dr Kristin Neff, a pioneering research psychologist, speaks about replacing the stiff upper lip mentality you may hold with self-compassion. Show comfort, care and kindness to yourself when negative thoughts take hold, and remember that you are not made to be perfect.
If someone speaks about their inner voice during a coaching session, the coach will look to explore where these thoughts and beliefs come from. Can the client recall a situation where what they are saying is true – or is it something they’ve told themselves so often they believe is true but have no evidence to back it up? Considering where these thoughts stem from gives you powerful insights into why and how they were first ingrained in your mind. The realisation that thoughts are not always facts offers a new perspective and can be hugely helpful in embodying self-kindness.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that your inner critic is not always a negative thing. It has a protective nature that tries to prevent you from experiencing embarrassing situations. This protectiveness is another reason we should show our inner critic self-compassion, but also why it can be difficult to minimise the power it holds. To challenge something that protects us goes against everything we’ve ever been told, so it is natural if you find it challenging.
We will forever continue to have some sort of internal dialogue with ourselves, and this is so important in guiding how we behave and think in the world. Our inner critic will never fully disappear but we can work towards changing how we react to the most negative aspects that stop us taking chances and realising our full potential. The inner critic can develop over many years, so it is not conceivable to change how we react overnight. It will take some time and a genuine effort to introduce change. Just as your inner critic grew stronger over time, so too will your efforts to calm and drown it out. You are with yourself from your first breath until your last, so try to make the journey in between as pleasant as you can.