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  • Writer's pictureLiz Beiderman

No More Self-Sabotage: 3 Steps to Silence Your Inner Critic

Tired of letting your inner critic run your life? Read on for tips that can help you break free of the endless cycle of criticism, insults, and self-defeating thoughts that keep you feeling stuck!

A young, blonde-haired woman stairs at her reflection in the mirror with a critical expression on her face. The image represents the impact negative self-talk brought on by the inner critic on an individual's self-esteem.

Tell me if any of these sound familiar to you:

“You always fail at everything you do.”

“You could be doing so much more with your life.”

“If you get rejected, it’s because you’re not good enough.”

“Other people your age are much more successful than you.”

“If you’re in a bad spot, you have no one but yourself to blame.”

Feeling motivated yet?

Okay, to be fair, we may very well have crossed paths with people vitriolic enough to say something like that to us in real life. But here’s the kicker: How many of these phrases are things that you’ve said to yourself recently? That would be the inner critic at work.

What Exactly Is An Inner Critic?

You probably know your inner critic better than you realize. It’s that voice that jumps on our every mistake, judges and questions everything we do, kicks us when we’re already down, demeans us for no reason, and holds us to insanely high expectations. If you can relate, you’re definitely not alone - we all have our own Inner critic living within us.

This toxic voice can be especially loud when we’re in a difficult spot in our lives, such as going through depression, getting over a break-up, or suffering a setback in our career. Somehow, the inner critic works overtime to convince us that these hardships are our fault for being “a constant mess up,” “the odd one out,” or just plain “not good enough.”

Where do these thoughts come from? Some of the origins seem obvious enough, such as being on the receiving end of harsh criticism or flat-out verbal abuse in the past. But believe it or not, it’s not always necessarily negative feedback that feeds our inner critic. For every overly critical parent, schoolyard bully, or overbearing boss, there can also be well-intended praise or encouragement that backfires.

Consider the following examples:

“You have so much potential!”

“It would be such a shame to see your talents wasted…”

“You could accomplish so much if you only you just applied yourself!”

Congratulations, instead of motivation, you’ve just been saddled with astronomical self-expectations and years of beating yourself up over falling short of your epic goals or not knowing what your “great passion” is. You may well be the first person in your family to go to college, but anything short of your “full potential” just won’t cut it, right?

Why Is Our Inner Critic A Problem?

The inner critic sometimes goes by other names, including “inner judge,” “inner saboteur,” and “negative self-talk.” Whatever we choose to call it, a particularly loud inner critic can have a devastating impact on our self-esteem, emotional health, relationships, and motivation.

The inner critic damages our sense of self-worth by convincing us that we are being negatively appraised by others and are somehow incomplete or insufficient as we already are. It causes us to blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault, creates unreasonable expectations and measures of success, and forecasts our failures before we’ve even begun.

My personal favourite alternate name for the inner critic is the “saboteur,” because that’s precisely what it does: It keeps us from moving forward or putting ourselves out there by convincing us that it’s too risky, failure is inevitable, or any measure of success we achieve still won’t be enough. The end result is that we remain stuck and feel powerless to change anything.

A man sits with his head in his hands, with a lake or ocean in the background, looking overwhelmed and unhappy. The picture is intended to represent the negative effects of the inner critic on one's mental health and self-esteem.

Why DO We Listen To Our Inner Critic?

The messages we get from our inner critic aren’t random. They’re often things we’ve internalized over the years after hearing them from the people in our lives, be it our family, teachers, supervisors, friends, or peers. The input we receive from various forms of media and society at large can also shape our expectations. But if so much of this messaging is detrimental to our wellbeing, why do we listen?

Perhaps because we used to listen to the people who inspired those beliefs. It can be hard to shake off attitudes that were shaped by someone who’s opinion we may have valued. It can also be difficult for us to combat our thoughts when we’re the one’s generating them. Hey, maybe we’ve even somehow come to believe that our inner critic is just a well-meaning ally who’s looking out for our best interests.

Whatever the reason, the end result is the same. The inner critic will continually tear us down and sabotage our efforts until we start holding it accountable and flipping the script. On that note, let’s take a look at three steps for stopping the inner critic in its tracks, revealing it for what it really is, and effectively silencing it.

How Do We Silence Our Inner Critic?

There are many ways to clap back at that insidious voice telling us that we’re not good enough, so why don’t we start with three steps that directly address some of the possible reasons we believe our inner critic to begin with. These strategies include becoming more aware of our thoughts, externalizing them, and revealing them for what they really are.

Becoming More Aware Of Our Thoughts

For this tactic, consider writing down the thoughts conjured up by your inner critic as they come to you. This can help you begin to take note of the most common criticisms your critic subjects you to. Do you notice any patterns or common threads emerging? Can you think back to where you might have heard that sentiment or drawn that conclusion before? Do any specific individuals come to mind?

This exercise can help us zero in on the core beliefs about ourselves that our inner critic preys on, and allows us to set the stage for eventually challenging them. But first, let’s make the distinction between what we think and who we actually are, because contrary to popular belief, our thoughts do not necessarily reflect our attitudes. This becomes increasingly obvious once we externalize them.

A young woman sits at a pier at what appears to be sunset, gazing pensively into the distance. The photo is being used to represent increasing one's awareness of negative self-talk brought on by the inner critic as part of a therapeutic strategy to begin overcoming the self-criticism.

Externalizing Our Thoughts

Find it difficult to separate yourself from your thoughts so long as they remain in your head? This may be the tactic for you! Externalization has been one of the most popular strategies I’ve used with clients, likely because it allows us to separate ourselves from our inner critic and turn the tables on them.

To get started, think of the most annoying person you know or used to know. Got a name? Great. That’s now what your inner critic is called. Since I’m incredibly original, I’m going to use the example “Bob.” Bob is that annoying bully who always used to dump on everything you did, constantly tried to one-up you, pointed out your shortcomings, and served you up backhanded compliments. We can’t stand Bob.

If Bob sidled up next to you while you were applying for a job, practicing a new skill, or filling out a profile on a dating app, and snickered, “What’s the point? You’ll probably just fail anyway,” how to you think you would react to that? Well, starting now, I want you to practice telling “Bob” precisely where to shove it and to get lost until he has something useful to offer you.

That’s the beautiful thing about externalizing our negative self-talk: We’re suddenly in a position where we can scrutinize it and watch it topple in response. It also helps us to separate ourselves from our thoughts. You are the person trying to live your life. Bob is the abrasive background noise. Once you recognize that, you can start hitting the mute button anytime it starts interfering with your day.

One thing to note about this strategy: Creating new habits takes time, and for better or worse, listening to our inner critic is a habit that’s hard to kick. Don’t be surprised if you occasionally need to tell Bob to shut it multiple times within the span of a few minutes. It’s annoying, but so worth it in the long run.

Now that we’re more aware of our thoughts and have practiced externalizing them, let’s go ahead and cross-examine the little know-it-all in our head who constantly assures us that we’re “doing it wrong.”

Ousting The Inner Critic

Think your inner critic is just keeping you humble and trying to help you better yourself? Let’s put that to the test.

How does it come across to you when “Bob” offers the oh-so-helpful advice that “You’ll never be good enough so don’t even bother trying,” or “They all hate you anyway”? Do you see anything helpful, constructive, or motivating in that? Do you know anyone who’s going to be driven to better themselves based on that critique?

Whenever “Bob” starts acting up, stop what you’re doing for a moment and ask, “It that even remotely true? Where is the evidence for that?” Another popular choice: “In what way is that supposed to help me?” Finally, since self-compassion is pretty much the inner critic’s kryptonite: “Is it possible that I’m being really hard on myself right now?”

Granted, calling out our inner critic verbally might go over a bit better when we have some privacy, but if your critic tends to be loudest in public (or if we just feel weirded out by the idea of answering aloud), you can always practice responding mentally or even writing your thoughts and responses down.

However you choose to go about shutting down the inner critic, the main idea is to catch the stream of negative self-talk, stop it in its tracks, and call it out. The more we get in the habit of doing this, the easier it becomes!

Self-criticism is not something that’s unusual in and of itself. We can all be a little tough on ourselves at times, but it becomes an issue when the negativity becomes pervasive and overpowering, alters our perceptions, and begins interfering with our happiness and quality of life. We don’t have to let this happen!

The inner critic may offer up a series of “suggestions” for how we might see ourselves, but it’s up to us to decide if we want to accept or reject them. While we can’t always control our circumstances, we do get to influence our mindset, and that power is something the inner critic has no defense against.

Are you ready to silence your inner critic and boost your own voice instead? Contact me for a free consultation to discuss how therapy can help!

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