Most of us are familiar with those nagging thoughts that tell us we are not good enough, casting doubt on our ability to achieve our goals and undermining our accomplishments. These thoughts might be there to greet us when we first wake in the morning, about how bad we are at our jobs or life and can even be the first things we think when we see ourselves in the mirror in the morning – “You’re so unattractive, you’re looking even fatter, how ugly are you”.
This horrible inner critic might continue with you into work – “You will never be any good at this job, you should just give it up. You’ll never get everything done, what will people think. You are just not intelligent enough for this job, you’ll be caught out soon. No one even notices you anyway so why are you bothering, just give up you loser”.
It can even be there to critique your closest relationships – “He doesn’t really love me. Why would anyone care about me? It will never last. You’re best to leave him now”. Or if you are trying to find a partner it’s; “Who would want me? I’m not attractive, I’m not desirable, they are bound to choose someone else”.
For most people we are all a game of two halves, part of us is goal-directed and self-possessed, while another part is self-critical, self-denying, and even self-destructive. Don’t think you’re on your own with this, as we all have these traits, it’s not about having them; it’s about how much we have and where the balance is.
The critical inner voice is formed from painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we are all copying and following the people around us, as this is how we learn things. It is all implanted into our unconscious, where we adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thought towards ourselves and others. As we grow up, for some of us, we learn that this is not healthy, and we learn to break from those old habits. But when we fail to identify and separate from this inner critic, we allow it to impact our behaviour and it then negatively shapes the direction of our lives. For some of us it can be born out of a bad relationship we have had as adults and we have just continued with it. It may sabotage our successes or our relationships, our ability to achieve our goals, preventing us from living the lives we want to lead and becoming the people we seek to be. So how can we challenge this inner voice? How can we recognise its commentary and let it go?
The first step is to separate this from who we are and start to see it as an old pattern instead of something real and true. Remember that your critical inner voice is not real or in any way a reflection of reality. It is a viewpoint you adopted based on destructive early life experiences and attitudes directed toward you, that you’ve internalised as your own point of view.
A good way to do this is to put pen to paper and to write these thoughts down in the second person. For example, a thought like “I’ll never be successful,” should be written as, “You’ll never be successful.” This will help you see these thoughts as a non-personal point of view and not as true statements.
Next, you can respond to your inner critic by writing down a more realistic and compassionate evaluation of yourself. Write these responses in the first person (as “I” statements). In response to a thought like, “You’re such an idiot,” you could write, “I may not get everything right, but like everyone else, I am not perfect, but I am smart and competent in many ways”. This will help you show a kinder, more honest attitude toward yourself. Always remember if you wouldn’t say it to someone else then don’t say it to yourself.
Also, keep things clear in your mind that this isn’t real and try not to act on what your inner critic might say. Take actions that represent your new points of view, who you want to be and what you aim to achieve. Every time you identify and separate from your inner critic, you can then stop acting with these destructive thoughts. You will grow stronger, while your inner critic grows weaker.
Have a great week, Sara x