Dealing with your inner critic
What is an inner critic?
Everyone hears their inner critic from time to time, also known as the inner judge; that voice in your mind which tells you that you should or could have done better. At different times, often depending on what it’s criticizing, the inner critic can feel like yourself, your teachers or parents, or other people you don’t want to disappoint.
To combat the inner critic, you need to understand what its intention is. However difficult it is to live with, you can think of your inner critic as your mind’s way of trying to help you improve. By pointing out your ‘flaws’, it is trying to help you get past them, avoid embarrassment, and achieve your goals, in a way which seems like it should work. The problem is, it’s too much like an over-protective or domineering parent. However good its intentions, criticising and carping at anyone, including yourself, only makes it harder for them to do well. Multiple studies have shown that children need to feel good about their abilities to develop them, and that holds true for adults too.
A common inner critic trick is telling you that an idea you know is right is too obvious and must be wrong, or that what you have done isn’t actually any good and you’re fooling people or being lied to, to spare your feelings. This is often known as ‘impostor syndrome’, (more on this next month) and it can be dealt with in the same ways as any other type of self-criticism.
How to silence your inner critic
One good way to keep your inner critic at bay is to keep busy and to focus on your tasks, especially the ones the critic tells you you’re bad at. If you’re paying close attention to what you’re doing, you won’t hear the inner voice telling you you’re doing it wrong, and you’ll be more likely to do it well or learn to do it well, so the inner critic will bother you about it less.
As an alternative, meditation, mindfulness or self-hypnosis can help you learn to empty your mind of critical, unpleasant thoughts. Try a guided meditation – plenty are available for free online, including one on this site – so your mind is less inclined to wander. Audios of affirmations (positive statements) can also be found online and can help drown out negative self-talk with positivity.
Other ideas include:
- Make a habit of making positive statements about yourself every day, and as you work towards your goals you will be better and better able to believe them.
- Make a list of positive qualities about yourself, things you know you are good at, things you have done well, etc. Ask a friend or loved one for suggestions of what to include if you need to.
- Make a written list of practical evidence that proves or disproves what the inner critic is saying. This will help you recognise when a critical thought is irrational or simply wrong.
- If there is evidence to support the criticism, think about what that means. Would it really be so bad? How can you change what you’re doing to increase the chances of doing better?
Finally, and most importantly, think about whether you would apply the same standards to a friend. Would you speak to a friend as cruelly as you do to yourself? Would your friends speak to you the way you do to yourself, or be happy if they heard it? Probably not, so work on being kinder to yourself. (If your answer is yes, perhaps you need some more supportive friends!)
For further information, try this article, which describes types of inner critic by comparison with Harry Potter’s teachers: https://www.jungcentre.com/inner-critic, an interesting take for fans and non-fans alike.
And, of course, if you find that these self-help methods don’t work, please contact me to see if hypnotherapy might help you silence that pesky inner critic once and for all.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.