4 Steps to Conquer Your Inner Critic
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“You’re under too much pressure. You’ll never get everything done. No one even notices you. You should just give up.” This inner critic might meet you at work. Most of us are familiar with those nagging thoughts that cast doubt on our goals and undermine our accomplishments. These thoughts might be there to greet us when we first glimpse at ourselves in the mirror in the morning at the office. Yet, this reality should urge us to look at why we ourselves are so self-deprecating and what we can do to rid ourselves of our own distorted self-perceptions
The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others. When we fail to identify and separate from this inner critic, we allow it to impact our behavior and shape the direction of our lives. It may sabotage our successes or our relationships, 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 recognize its commentary and differentiate from its directives?
Here are 4 steps to conquer your inner critics:
Step 1: Identify Your Inner Critic
Try to identify what your critical inner voice is telling you. Does your voice sound mean and angry, directly attacking you? or does your voice sound gentle and self-soothing, tricking you? The voice can be brutal and obvious but it can also be deceptive and difficult to recognize, as it entices you to act against your goals. But when you do, it then punishes you for the very actions it encouraged you to take. Acknowledge that this thought process is separate from your real point of view. Remember that your critical inner voice is not a reflection of reality. It is a viewpoint you adopted based on destructive early life experiences and attitudes directed toward you that you’ve internalized as your own point of view.
Step 2: Separate From Your Inner Critic
One way to help you differentiate from your critical inner voice is to write these thoughts down in the second person (as “you” statements). For example, a thought like “I can’t get anything right. I’ll never be successful” should be written as “You can’t get anything right. You’ll never be successful.” This will help you see these thoughts as an alien point of view and not as true statements. Notice how hostile this internal enemy can be. The intention of this exercise is not to build yourself up or boost your ego. Rather, it is intended to place you in a more realistic mindset and separate you from the distorted attitudes of your inner critic.
Step 3: Respond to Your Inner Critic
The most powerful way to combat your critical inner voice is with your actions. Try as it may to influence you, you can defeat the voice because you have the ultimate control of your actions. 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 struggle at times, but I am smart and competent in many ways.” This exercise isn’t meant to build you up or boost your ego but to show a kinder, more honest attitude toward yourself. By taking actions like taking care of yourself, looking your best, staying vulnerable in your close relationships or going after career success you will counter your critical inner voice.
Step 4: Don’t Act On Your Inner Critic
Remember not to act on the directives of your inner critic. Take actions that represent your own point of view, who you want to be and what you aim to achieve. Your critical inner voice may get louder, telling you to stay in line or not to take chances. A good way to think of this is to imagine these thoughts as a monster. The more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it becomes. However, if you starve it, the monster at first will become even angrier and will put up a struggle. The same goes for self-critical thought processes. The more you ignore them, the louder they will roar, but if you stand up to them, eventually they will be defeated. By identifying, separating from, and acting against this destructive thought process, you will grow stronger, while your inner critic grows weaker.