The Inner Critic
Like many people, perhaps you are aware of having inner thoughts that are critical of who you are or what you've done. These thoughts are usually some version of "you're not worthy," or "you're incompetent," or "you're unloveable," and so on. This is the inner critic and the impact of it's messages can be anywhere from annoying to devastating, significantly affecting our relationships, career and self esteem.
The inner critic is a program that was useful for ensuring our survival as a young child. It’s an internalized voice, usually of a parent, that we developed to keep us alive by focusing our attention on our parents expectations and away from ourselves. Unfortunately the imperative is to keep us alive at any cost; think shame, guilt, judgment, depression, and low self-esteem.
Also unfortunately, there is no software update or delete function for this program. As far as I know, we’re stuck with this voice for the rest of our life, but we can learn to counteract the attack of the inner critic and minimize its affect.
The inner critic does not like to be noticed or challenged. It prefers to influence our lives quietly in the background. Here are two exercises that you can do to recognize and challenge the inner critic. You can do both of them at the same time if you want.
Learning to notice the inner critic… Get yourself a notebook or someplace you can keep notes. When you recognize the inner critic attacking, take note of:
Notice how many inner critic attacks you catch in one day. It’s not unusual for there to be so many attacks that you can’t make note of them all. Now notice the details. What is the general message of the attacks? When do they tend to happen? What are you being “protected” from - interacting with others, the risk of failure, something else? Whose “voice” does the attack sound like? If you can do this for a few days or a week, you’ll get lots of good information and just the noticing will change your relation with the inner critic.
If you’re ready for a challenge, try challenging the inner critic… The next time the inner critic is attacking, yell out loud something like, “That’s not helpful, go away!” or even “Get the **** out of my head!” You have to match or exceed the energy of the message, so put some oomph behind it - yell like you mean it! If the inner critic doesn’t stop, try again - remember you have to be more committed to ending the critical messages than it is to continuing the critical message. Be sure to notice if the voice of the inner critic stops.
I hope this gives you some insight and control over the inner critic and it's messages.
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Scott Nighbor, MA, LMHC
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