The "inner critic" is a term for many people's inner voice that tells them they're not enough or is critical of their thoughts, behaviors, or emotions. For example, when you make a mistake, your inner critical voice (thoughts) might say, "I should've done better" or "I'm such a failure." These negative thoughts and self-criticism can be painful and difficult to deal with and may decrease self-confidence.
In some individuals the inner critic holds tremendous power and may speak in the second person using “you.” This imparts a layer of shame or feeling like you have done something wrong. If your thoughts cause you to experience self-loathing, low self-esteem, inner doubt, fear, or stress, you might benefit from the following four steps to reduce this voice in your head and feel in control of how you think about yourself.
Four Steps To Quiet Your Inner Critic
Being self-reflective may improve people’s lives, however, sometimes self-reflection can turn to harsh criticism. Suppose you sense your critical inner voice has progressed beyond the point of being helpful and is lowering your self-esteem and motivation or bringing up self-doubt. In that case, you might benefit from the following four-step approach to find relief from ongoing critical self-talk.
Step One: Cultivate Awareness Of Your Thoughts
Awareness has the potential to create change. For example, becoming aware of your inner critic's thoughts and how they affect you might help you change how you think about yourself and what you tell yourself when you make a mistake.
Next time you make an error, you might stop and listen to your inner voice and self-criticisms. Ask yourself questions like:
- What are you telling yourself?
- Do you think these types of thoughts often?
- How do they make you feel?
- Would you say these words to someone you love?
These questions may help you bring awareness to your inner critic, which could be enough to start seeing changes. For example, research suggests that self-awareness can drive behavior change and reprogram your mind. For some people, writing down their responses to these questions may provide a good way to slow down thinking and track success over time.
Step Two: Stop Yourself When You Notice Your Inner Critic
When you notice a critical thought, it may help to stop and redirect your mind. You might do this after asking yourself questions like those from the previous section. Below are a few ways to quiet your mind:
- Take five deep breaths and count them
- Quietly listen to the sounds around you for 30 seconds
- Listen to your favorite upbeat song
- Go for a short walk
- Notice what you are experiencing from your five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing)
These small actions might give your brain enough of a break that you can stop the critical thoughts or negative self-talk, even if it's only for a few seconds. As you practice this, you may be able to stop them for longer each time. These practices are also examples of mindfulness, which has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and increase self-compassion.
Step Three: Replace Critical Talk With Positive Thoughts
After observing your inner critic and redirecting your mind, you might benefit from replacing your harsh inner critic with positive thoughts. Consider the situation you experienced and find an uplifting topic to think about or say to yourself. If this step is difficult, it may help to consider what you would say to a close friend or innocent child in the same situation.
If thinking a positive thought doesn't feel like it fits you, that's okay. Instead, you could try thinking about a topic that makes you happy and is unrelated. For example, suppose you finished a job interview, and you've noticed critical thoughts. In that case, you might think about something funny your pet or child did recently or visualize a peaceful spot (real or imaginary) that you find beautiful or calming.
You don't have to avoid critical thinking; you can revisit the issue later to explore and learn from it. Often, this exercise aims to give your mind a break from your inner critic while you focus on your goals.
If this process brings up challenging emotions for you, or you'd prefer a different approach, consider finding a therapist to help you. Methods like internet-based cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been shown to help many people change or redirect their thoughts. Additionally, a therapist who can teach you CBT may be able to help you identify the source of your critical thoughts so you can better explore them.
Step Four: Practice And Repeat
Psychology today recognizes that behavioral changes like quieting your inner critic can take time. You might need to practice and repeat these steps several times before you feel you've succeeded. However, by continuing to bring awareness to your critical thoughts, giving your mind a break, and introducing uplifting thoughts, you may see noteworthy changes in your thinking over time.
Below are some tips that might make it easier to practice these steps:
- Leave reminders about these steps where you can see them often (sticky notes on your refrigerator or reminders on your phone).
- Celebrate yourself when you use these steps with something minor, like a five-minute break from work or a healthy snack you enjoy.
- Start therapy and ask a professional to help you explore the source of your critical thoughts and new ways to quiet your inner critic.
- Journal about your progress or feelings at the end of each day to reflect on what worked for you.
- Spend time with people who inspire you and help you feel more optimistic.
- Read self-help books, listen to podcasts, or watch videos that you find inspiring.
Many people may struggle to quiet their inner criticism when experiencing a mental health condition or chronic stress, or when feeling rejected. In addition, everyone may benefit from different strategies to foster growth and change. The above steps might not work for everyone.
If you find this process challenging, consider contacting a mental health professional for assistance. Having an unbiased outside party to talk to can be beneficial, and a therapist may help you understand your thought processes better. Therapists may specialize in different therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy, internal family systems therapy, or couples therapy and it is important to find a therapist who meets your needs. If you're unsure you have time for therapy in your life, consider online treatment. Studies have found it as effective as face-to-face therapy. In addition, it eliminates drive time and gives you a more comprehensive list of professionals to choose from.
For those interested in online therapy, online platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist based on your preferences. You can schedule sessions via phone, video, or in-app messaging on your time. In addition, you can message your therapist at any time you need to and receive a response, often within 24 hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
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