Everyone has an inner voice that whispers doubts, fears and sometimes even insults. However, what purpose does this voice serve, and what can you do to battle it?
This guide will help you to get to know your inner critic and understand how to counteract its destructive influence.
You can think of your inner critic as a type of subpersonality that observes, judges and demeans you. The notion of the inner critic is present in a wide range of psychological theories, and it most famously appears as the Freudian superego.
Some speculate that its role is perhaps partly protective in nature and that its negativity is a way of shielding you from potentially uncomfortable experiences. However, there is also a cultural tendency towards believing that criticism, guilt, and shame are motivating. This view is entirely unhelpful, preventing us from accessing the true power of positive thinking.
Once you're aware that you have an inner critic, it's relatively easy to start identifying what that little voice is saying. Common examples range from ‘You'll never succeed' to ‘Your friends don't really like you.' Your inner critic will be particularly vocal whenever you are thinking about doing something that is new or daunting, even if that risky choice stands to bring huge benefits.
It's the voice you hear when you're working up the nerve to talk to a beautiful stranger or when you're thinking about how to answer questions in a job interview. You might also hear its negativity when you try to engage in creative pursuits like painting, taking photographs or playing music.
Once you recognize your inner critic, you can start to take a rational perspective on what it says. It's important to note that almost everything it says will be false; your inner critic simply represents your self-doubt. However, it's useful to actually take a look at what the inner critic is saying and ask whether it is true.
Instead of cringing when the voice tells you that you're not good enough to succeed in your chosen career, start by analyzing why you might think that. Are you focusing on harsh messages conveyed by negative figures in your life? Are you using unrealistic standards to compare yourself to others?
Next, use your understanding of where the negativity might come from to help you understand why the words of the inner critic don't reflect reality.
Armed with your new perspective on what your inner critic has to say, it's time to start thinking about how to respond. If what it is saying is obviously false, you can practice saying ‘Shut up!' or ‘I'm not listening to you.'
If you're alone then you can say this out loud, but it's equally effective to say it in your head. However, what should you do about the cases in which it seems like your inner critic might have a valid point? After all, it's possible that you will fail or that things won't go your way.
One powerful strategy is to face up to this possibility and remind yourself that there's always something to be learned and gained from an experience, even if that experience seems negative at the time.
As such, when your inner critic seems like it might be saying something sensible, you can mentally reply ‘That's a risk I'm willing to take, and I know I can deal with the consequences.'
In time, learning how to counter the inner critic may stop it from speaking at all, or you may notice that you only hear its voice on rare occasions. However, there are some other tricks that might help you in your quest to silence.
For one thing, some people even find it helpful to give the inner critic a name, dissociating its identity from its owner. This process can stop you from thinking of the inner critic as a part of you that should be taken seriously. In addition, practicing positive affirmations can effectively shield your mind from the influence of that nasty little voice.
For example, you might spend a few minutes each morning telling yourself that you can achieve your goals, that you will have a positive, productive day, and that you deserve joy.
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