When I practice Inner Child Therapy with clients, we invariably meet the Inner Critic at some stage. This can often be identified because of the “should” statements that are associated with its advice. When I look at my client base, I notice that I have a range of different personalities, issues and outlooks on life but one thing that many have in common is a lack of self-esteem. There are some very successful people here who beat themselves up over the smallest setback, refusing to leave their perfectionist thinking and ruining what could be a fruitful life in the process. Many of them have a strong inner critic that wraps itself around them, reminding them of their failures and defects.
Everyone has an inner critic. Our self-esteem and self-image are developed by how we talk to ourselves. All of us have conscious and unconscious memories of all the times we felt bad or wrong – they are part of the unavoidable scars of childhood. This is where the inner critical voice gets started. We also have an inner voice that has our best interest at heart. Listen to the good inner voice. How we respond to our good inner voice determines how we feel. When we don’t listen we feel bad. When we follow its lead with faith that it is guiding us towards what is best for us, we feel good. The dysfunctional Inner Voice is also there to protect us and in fact was formed by us at an early age as a protection measure. We became hyper-vigilant around anything that we saw as threatening and taught ourselves to avoid it. Part of this process means that we adopt these messages from the inner critic as default.
How do you stop your inner critic? Before you can disarm the critic, you have to know him. Secrecy is his greatest strength. So if you can get really good at hearing and identifying his voice, you will have won a major victory. Remember that every time the critic attacks he is doing you real psychological harm. He is further wounding your sense of worth and making it harder to feel competent and happy in the world. You can’t afford what he is doing to you. It’s costing you too much.
Analyze your critical thoughts. As you analyse your critical thoughts, determine what they help you feel or help you avoid feeling; you’ll begin to see a pattern to the attacks. One person may find his critic’s primary function is to help him atone for guilt. Someone else may experience a critic whose main effort is to provide achievement motivation. Another person’s critic may help desensitise her to the fear of rejection. Or a critic may harangue you to stay on the straight and narrow path. The message is immaterial and is always about avoiding healthy activities and normal risks in life. When you become aware of the theme or themes your critic uses, you are ready to counter it.
Some of the best times to catch your inner critic are: when you are feeling depressed or down on yourself, meeting strangers, contact with people you find sexually attractive, situations in which you have made a mistake, situations in which you feel criticised and defensive, situations in which you feel hurt or someone has been angry at you, and conversations with parents or anyone who might be disapproving.
Disarming the critic involves three steps: (1) unmasking his purpose, (2) talking back, and (3) making him useless.
There are few things more effective for winning arguments than to suddenly unmask your opponent’s ulterior motives. Getting clear about the critic’s function makes everything he says less believable. You know his ulterior motive. No matter how he rants and raves, you’ve exposed his secret agenda and therefore feel less vulnerable to him. Remember that the critic attacks you because his voice is in some way being reinforced. When you are able to identify the role your critic plays in your psychological life, when you are able to call his game, you are beginning to seriously undermine the credibility of his message.
People with very low self-esteem have a more vicious and demoralising inner critic. Low self-esteem robs you of your confidence. You no longer trust your ability to cope or make decisions. Risks stop being challenging; they’re scary. Since you can’t live up to your own critical voice, you’re also often critical of others. There are several things you can do to diminish your negative inner critic. Research indicates that to change behaviour, it is more effective to stop telling yourself negative things than to just tell yourself positive things. It’s not so much the power of positive thinking as it is the power of non-negative thinking. So how do you stop telling yourself negative things? Read and try the following:
Hear your inner critic. Catch him in the act. You can’t change anything you don’t know is there. If you’re not paying attention to it, you’re actually reinforcing it. Once you hear your inner critic and know your vulnerable times you can then learn how to “turn off” and disarm it..
Talk back to the inner critic: I have heard and read many times that getting angry with the critic is the way to stop him. I disagree. We formed the critic and he is part of us. He has a thankless task to save us from danger. He just doesn’t know how to do it. It is time to retire him rather than kill him. Rather than attacking him, it is best to convince him that he is no longer needed. “Thank you for being there for me but I really don’t need you any longer, so take a step back” or ” I have this, I am strong enough” or the like will weaken the critic over a period of time.
Try thought stoppage: Tell the critic to stop. Stop ruminating. Get up, move, get a drink of water.
Use attention shift: Look outside. Look at people around you. Look at any object nearby and study it intently. Stay in the moment. Use all your senses to distract yourself.
Counter the argument with logic. When the above measures do not work, use logic to counter the critic’s emotional argument. For example, ” you shouldn’t apply for that job, you will never get it” Logical voice can say : ” thank you for your input but I want and choose to apply for this job. I know I might not get it but there is a chance I will”. This is even more powerful when written.
Now ask the price: What price have I paid to listen to the critical voice? Make a list of the ways the critic has hurt you in relationships, work and self-esteem. The price may be external or internal.
Now you must replace the inner critic with your positive voice. Use a self compliment or a pre-selected affirmation. It takes about 21 days to change a habit. Be consistent with this behaviour and you will have more love in your life starting with yourself.
Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues.
He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.