The inner critic is a term used to describe the negative and self-critical thoughts that people often have about themselves. These thoughts can be especially destructive when they are harsh, repetitive, and unbalanced, and can lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt, and a lack of confidence. According to positive psychology, the inner critic can be a major obstacle to happiness and well-being. It can lead to negative self-perception, low self-esteem, and a lack of confidence, which can in turn lead to a host of negative outcomes, such as difficulty setting and achieving goals, difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships, and difficulty finding meaning and purpose in life. Positive psychology also emphasizes the importance of building strengths and using them to improve well-being. By focusing on and developing our strengths, we can become more confident, resilient, and capable, which can help to reduce the power of the inner critic over time.
Our inner critic can often appear as a result of negative experiences or messages we received during our childhood or adolescence. These experiences and messages can be internalised and can become the basis for the negative beliefs and thoughts that the inner critic uses to judge us.
It is important to recognise when you are experiencing negative inner self-talk and to try to reframe those thoughts in a more realistic and positive way. This can be a challenging process, but it can help you to feel better about yourself and to build greater resilience.
There are also many different strategies and techniques that can be helpful for managing and reducing the inner critic and its impact and here are 7 to get started with:
- Awareness. We can’t possibly make effective change if we are not aware that something is present and to what extent it is present. Notice when the inner critic is speaking, how often it speaks.
- Pay attention and become aware of what is it actually saying to you?
- Acknowledge that the inner critic's thoughts and beliefs are not necessarily true or helpful. They may be based on past experiences or negative beliefs that you have about yourself, but they do not define who you are.
- Challenge the inner critic's words by looking at the evidence for and against what it is saying. Is it balanced and realistic, or is it overly negative and distorted?
- Start reframing the inner critic's thoughts in a more positive and accurate way. Using sentence starters like ‘at least…..’ and ‘yes but…..’ will help you get started. For example if your inner critic is saying ‘look at you, you messed up again’, you can reframe that with ‘at least I gave it a go’, ‘got it started’, ‘won’t do it that way again’ etc, you get the gist.
- Know that your inner critic is not the only available voice in your head, you also have your superhero, practice engaging it!
- By practicing self-compassion, which I know can sound a bit lofty, you can learn to be more accepting and forgiving of yourself and develop a more positive and supportive inner voice as well as learn to be kinder and more supportive towards ourselves.
There have been many studies done on the inner critic and self-compassion and below are some of the findings:
One study by Gilbert (2009), explored the role of compassion in mental health and well-being. The study found that cultivating compassion can lead to improved mental health and well-being, and that self-compassion, in particular, can be a powerful tool for overcoming the negative influence of the inner critic.
Another study by Neff (2003), defines self-compassion as "extending compassion to one's self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering" (p. 86). The study found that higher levels of well-being and lower levels of negative emotions, such as depression and anxiety were associated with self-compassion
A third study, by Neff (2011), also found higher levels of well-being and lower levels of negative emotions were associated with self-compassion. The study also found that self-compassion was a better predictor of well-being than self-esteem, which could suggest that self-compassion may be a more important factor in well-being than self-esteem.
Don’t forget that everyone has flaws and everyone makes mistakes, none of us are perfect nor will we ever be and by challenging the inner critic on this you can begin to weaken its power and influence over you.
Gilbert, P. (2009). The compassionate mind. London: Constable.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.
Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion, self-esteem, and well-being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(1), 1-12.
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