We all have an inner critic. What is an inner critic, you might ask? Your inner critic is that voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough. It’s the voice that points out our flaws and shortcomings, and makes us feel inadequate or ashamed.
This voice may have developed in childhood from overly critical or negative parenting. It may have developed as a result of childhood or relationship trauma. Perhaps it seems like its only recently developed out of stressful workplace situations. Regardless of the origin of your inner critic, learning to silence it, or at least not be led by it, is important.
While some degree of self-criticism can be helpful for self-improvement and growth, too much of it can be harmful to our mental health and well-being. Learning to silence your inner critic can be a difficult but important step in building a more positive relationship with yourself. In this post, we’ll explore some of the reasons why it’s hard to silence your inner critic, and offer some strategies for overcoming it.
The Problem of Self-Criticism
Self-criticism can be a pervasive and damaging pattern of thinking that can impact our self-esteem, relationships, and overall well-being. Whether it’s negative self-talk, perfectionism, people pleasing, or avoiding asking for your needs to be met in relationships, self-criticism can take many forms and can be a difficult pattern to break.
For many women, self-criticism can be a pervasive and damaging pattern of thinking that can impact their self-esteem, relationships, and overall well-being. Their inner critic is constantly judging and criticizing them, focusing on all their flaws and mistakes, and leaving them feeling inadequate or insecure.
The Perfectionism Trap
You may believe that by being hard on yourself, you can prevent failure and achieve success. Failure feels as though it’s a personal flaw or a reflection of your worth as a person and the solution to this is to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘t’ to make sure you get it right. While perfectionism may feel like a safe coping strategy that will help you avoid disappointing yourself and others, it is in fact a trap.
While in the short term it may have some pay offs (which is why people continue to do it), in the long run this can sabotage your ability to achieve your goals. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher on self compassion has found that “people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.” By recognizing the ways in which perfectionism contributes to self-criticism, we can begin to shift towards a more self-compassionate mindset.
Silence Your Inner Critic
Here are 5 strategies to help you cope more effectively with your inner critic;
1. Practice Mindfulness
Over time, your inner critic can become a deeply ingrained pattern of thought that feels automatic and difficult to control. You may have been criticizing yourself for years, and it can be hard to break the cycle. Your brain is wired to reinforce patterns of thought and behavior that are repeated over time, which is why breaking a habit can be so challenging. To overcome this, you need to create new neural pathways by practicing new patterns of thought and behavior. In order to silence your inner critic, you must first become aware of it. You cannot change what you are not aware of, right? And this is where mindful self-awareness comes in.
One strategy for breaking the habit of self-criticism is to become more aware of your inner dialogue. Start paying attention to the thoughts that go through your head throughout the day. Mindfulness is really just the practice of being present in the moment and observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment. By cultivating mindfulness, we can become more aware of our self-critical thoughts and learn to respond to them in a more compassionate and balanced way. In addition, mindfulness teaches us that we are not our thoughts, we are the observer of them. Notice when you’re being self-critical and allow those thoughts to pass withouth holding onto them or idnetifying with them. This is a powerful shift that can change your life.
2. Diffuse from the Inner Critic
When we notice a self-critical thought, we can try not to hold onto it so tightly. This is referred to as diffusion in ACT (Acceptance and Committment Therapy) . Steven Hayes is a prominent psychologist and the founder of ACT. In his work, Hayes has emphasized the role of the “inner critic,” According to Hayes, the inner critic is a normal and natural part of the human experience, but it can become problematic when we start to believe its messages and allow it to dictate our behavior. In ACT, the goal is not to eliminate the inner critic, but rather to learn to relate to it in a different way, so that it has less power over our thoughts and behaviour.
When you’re caught up in your inner critic’s thoughts, it can be hard to see them for what they are – just thoughts. Defusion techniques can help you step back from your thoughts and observe them from a more objective perspective. Some defusion techniques include:
- Saying your thoughts out loud in a silly voice
- Imagining your thoughts written on a cloud that floats away
- Thanking your inner critic for its input, but acknowledging that you don’t need it right now
3. Embrace Imperfection
Perfectionism can be a major source of self-criticism, so learning to embrace imperfection is an important step towards reducing self-criticism. By accepting that mistakes and flaws are a natural part of the human experience, we can let go of the need to be perfect and focus on self-acceptance instead.
Part of embracing imperfection is also refusing to fall into the comparison trap. In a world where 24/7 social media would have us believe that everyone else is smarter, thinner, richer and generally better than we are, it’s hard not to compare ourselves to others. But doing so only gives your inner critic weapons to use against you.
Russ Harris is a well-known author and therapist who is also a leader in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In his book “The Happiness Trap,” Harris emphasizes the importance of avoiding the comparison trap, which is the tendency to compare ourselves to others and judge our worth based on external standards or achievements.
According to Harris, the comparison trap can be a major source of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, as it creates a constant sense of inadequacy and a never-ending cycle of striving for more. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, Harris suggests focusing on our own values and goals, and striving to live in accordance with them, regardless of how others may be doing. This helps us to embrace our imperfections but also to live more fully as the person we want to be.
4. Cultivate Self-Compassion
You would never treat others the way you treat yourself. Begin to treat yourself with the compassion you would a small child or a friend in need. No one is perfect. But all of us are worthy of love, kindness and respect. By learning how to show ourselves more love, kindness and respect through the practice of self-compassion.
Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher in the field of self-compassion and has developed a model of self-compassion that includes three core components:
Self-Kindness: Being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than being harshly self-critical.
Common Humanity: Recognizing that suffering and feelings of inadequacy are a natural part of the human experience, rather than feeling isolated or alone in our struggles.
Mindfulness: Observing our thoughts and feelings with openness and curiosity, rather than getting lost in them or suppressing them.
Neff has found that increased self-compassion carries all the benefits of self-esteem (happiness, less depression, etc.) but without any of the down sides (not sustainable and can lead to narcissistic qualities). Social Researcher Brene Brown notes that self-compassion helps increase our likelihood of being more vulnerable and able to connect with others. Here are some interesting clips of Kristen and Brene talking together about self -esteem and self-compassion
On her website, Kristin Neff offers a number of beautiful exercises and practices for cultivating self-compassion, including guided meditations, journaling prompts, and other tools that can help individuals learn to treat themselves with greater kindness and understanding.
Finally, it’s important to remember that overcoming self-criticism is a process that can take time and effort. Seeking support from a therapist or counsellor can be an invaluable resource for learning to manage self-criticism and developing more self-compassion. If you’re tired of hearing that nagging voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough therapy can help you break free from a loud inner critic and negative self-talk and cultivate a more positive mindset. Discover practical tips and strategies for quieting your inner critic and embracing self-love and acceptance.
If you are struggling with self-criticism and would like support in cultivating greater self-compassion and a more balanced perspective in your thought life, Restore Renew Revive Counselling & Couples Therapy is here to help. Don’t let your inner critic hold you back from the life you were created for. Contact us at 902-702-7722 or visit our website at https://restorecounselling.ca to learn more and schedule an appointment today.