What is an ‘Inner Critic’ and Why Is it a Bad Thing?
‘Inner critic’ is a term used to describe the negative thoughts we have about ourselves. While these thoughts can help us recognise where we’ve gone wrong and how to put things right, many people find their inner critic goes too far. Rather than offering constructive criticism, this negative internal commentary tells us we’re bad, wrong, inadequate, worthless, guilty and so on. This can be incredibly detrimental for our wellbeing.
Being self-critical makes you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. It’s like carrying around a bully in your mind. Often, we don’t even notice we’re doing it. Even though they’re unhelpful, the negative patterns of our mind can become automatic.
So, what can you do? Here are five tips to help you tackle your inner critic…
In Order to Change It, You Need to Notice It
The first step to overcoming your inner critic is to start noticing when it shows up. Journaling is one of the best ways to achieve this. Try writing down some of your self-criticism. This will slow your thought processes and help you gain a different perspective.
You also need to understand the function of your inner critic. For example, clients often tell me it motivates them or keeps them in check. They worry that without it they might become lazy, unmotivated or disorganised.
Begin to Question It
Once you’re more aware of your inner critic and the impact it’s having on your life, you can begin to question its purpose and explore why it would be beneficial to alter it. Is your inner critic really helping you or are there some unintended consequences?
To use the example above, self-criticism might not be the best way to motivate yourself. There is a reason coaches, teachers and therapists don’t use criticism as their main motivational tool for behaviour change.
Find Another Way
Once you become more aware of your internal dialogue you have the ability to change it. This can take time and you may find self-criticism continues popping up unexpectedly.
Personally, my inner critic reappears whenever I do something new. It’s function is to prevent me from making a mistake or looking silly. Now I’m aware of this, I can soften it. I know what it’s trying to achieve for me, and I also know it’s not helpful. If I listen to my inner critic, I won’t learn new things or grow in the ways I want to.
What Would You Say to a Friend?
As you begin to understand when and why your inner critic is going to pop up, you can be ready with a new way of thinking. I find it helpful to consider what I would say to a friend in the same situation.
Self-compassion is the true antidote to self-criticism. It’s not just about being kind to yourself, it’s about being strong and courageous – using your inner wisdom to know what’s best for you. When you practice self-compassion, you’re building your own inner resilience and courage. It’s a much easier way to go through life. Read Self-Compassion at the Heart of Wellbeing for more information.
People who are consistently hard on themselves usually end up performing worse because so much of their energy and attention is spent on self-criticism. When you learn to soften your inner critic and be more self-compassionate – especially when things go wrong or you make mistakes – you’re much more likely to succeed in the future.