A Counselor’s Review— 10 ways to silence your inner critic

If you happen to be watching American Idol, this season’s contestants are phenomenally talented!  They each seem to have found their authenticity. It’s a pretty diverse group.  Not all of them realized, as pointed out by the judges, just how good they really are. 

As they continue to go on stage, confidence is growing in some where it hadn’t been before.  One is feeling accepted by others for the first time.  One is stopping using humor as his persona, and is getting serious about focusing on showing his amazing talent. One is now able to call herself a pop star after some motivating words. 

Your inner critic can help you hone in on what may be faults or weaknesses before others see them as much as you do.  We can be our own worst critics. Being your own worst critic can help you be self-disciplined, and maybe even get you in the top 20 of American Idol!

Yet, over time, your inner critic can take a toll on you.“Being tough on yourself, especially when you’ve gone in the wrong direction, can make you stronger, and help you push towards your goals. But, when you can’t turn that voice off, it can limit your potential. Fortunately, they are proven ways to retake control.”

The above quote is from Jena Pincott, a science writer and author, from her article on this subject in this month’s Psychology Today magazine. The following is a review of her article on things that can help you silence your inner critic.

What are the voices?  I’m too fat.  I’m too old. I’m a terrible friend and partner.  I’m never good enough. What are the repeated things you catch yourself saying?  Do you feel like, if you stop pushing yourself, that disapproval or rejection—your worst fear—will become reality?  This is a recipe for stress, anxiety, and depression.

In many professions, your inner critic can give you what’s called, “imposter syndrome”.  You feel like an imposter, even if you’re fully equipt.  No matter what your education or experience, as alluded to above, you don’t feel like you have the right competence.  In our career world, the path to success is not always a straight path, and that can contribute to your uneasiness.

The paradox of your inner critic is that it attacks and undermines you to protect you from the shame of failure.  For some, this may have started early on in your life when you feared disapproval or rejection from your caregivers.  It could be a remaining echo of what you once were told.  When you then internalize what was imposed upon you, you can end up being demanding of yourself.  Shame then tells you you’re not worthy, competent, or good. Your inner critic doesn’t offer you room for growth, and you feel, “stuck”.

How can you answer the voices? When you have a strong inner critic, no matter how great your success, you don’t feel it’s real.  You may feel like all you’ve accomplished is a fluke.  You may push yourself more, with the ebbs appearing more prominent to you than the flows.  You may be driven more by fear of failure, than by passion and inspiration.

 ·        Detach yourself. Trying to shut down, suppress, or analyze your inner critic can’t work.  It will end up with you ruminating about it, which will not help you move forward and through it. The best way is to try to detach or distance yourself from your critic, and observe what’s going on from a different perspective.

 ·        Ask yourself why.  After you’ve been able to detach yourself, ask yourself why.  Why are you are so confident in one area, but not in others?  This can work the best in the heat of the moment when you’re feeling less than adequate.  It can help you step back, and think clearly and rationally--as if you were observing yourself.

·        Edit your story.  Once your emotions aren’t heightened, it’s your chance to reframe the self-disparaging things you’ve been telling yourself-- keeping yourself stuck on the same page of your story.  Take this as a time to turn the page and tell yourself a different story. The critic’s story is not the only story for you.

 ·        Add positive affirmations into your story.  What evidence do you have that tells you that the critic’s story isn’t true?  Affirming what you’re good at can remind you of your strengths and abilities.  They can then help you revise what you see in your mind’s eye, and refute the negative messages you’ve been hearing, or that was imposed upon you by hearing it from others.  We can start believing in ourselves.

·        Label your inner critic.  Professionally, I advocate not placing labels on yourself, but in this case it can help.  You’re not labeling yourself, youre labeling the negative inner critic’s voice. Since it is a negative inner critic, it can come up with counterexamples to your positive affirmations. It could be something as simple as: “Oh, that’s just the inner critic again.”  We can stop that tormenting, fault-finding voice.

 ·        Befriend your inner critic.  Why would you want to be friends with this negativity that is of no help to you?   Can you accept this inner critic as just one part of you?  Is it the perfectionist, the underminer?

Can you find a way to view the inner critic as a protector, protecting you from a blow to your ego that makes you feel like you’re not good enough?  We can actually thank the critic for diligently trying to protect us, and then ask that critic to take a step back.  We can have compassion for ourselves.  We can find out how to console ourselves.

 ·        Pay attention to the lessons.  None of us are perfect.  We make mistakes. 

If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.” — Zig Ziglar

Mistakes can be a chance for self-growth.  If you beat yourself up at each mistake, you’ll most likely get stuck in the self-disparaging cycle of criticism. 

You may have heard the common adage of, “Anything worth having is never easy.”  Challenging your inner critic, and not internalizing what it’s saying, will take practice.  There will be mistakes within your practicing.  Don’t give up on you.  Always strive for learning from your mistakes, moving forward and through them.

 ·        Activate a new, growth-oriented inner voice.  Oftentimes, the cure for something is doing he opposite.  Practice responding to your inner critic.  Does your critic insist you’re not good at something, or call you names?  A growth-oriented voice could respond back with self-compassion and forgiveness for being human, and making a mistake. Then, remember to pay attention to the lessons.

If everyone on American Idol took the constructive criticism of the judge’s to heart, their inner critics would have a good chance at taking over, instead of them taking control of their possible destiny.  Their thoughts would show in their performances.  Instead, they listened to what they could learn from seasoned artists, and we now have confident finalists that have found their voice, inside and out. 

 ·        Fake it until you make it.  If we can consistently act the part of the person we’d like to be, we can work on the parts of us that hold us back.  What things do you want to change about yourself?  Do you want to speak up for yourself more? 

As mentioned above, telling yourself the opposite can help.  Try speaking up every chance you get.  Make small talk with people at work meetings during breaks. Even if it seems silly or unpleasant, you’re consistently practicing.  Doing can be believing.

 ·        What if preaching annoys you?  Let’s use being healthy, and being at a healthy weight, as an example.  A study at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that if you are self-critical about your fitness and body image, you’re less likely to follow motivational health prompts.  The prompts to be healthy are seen as criticism from outside sources—exactly what an inner critic fears and tries to protect us from.  We don’t want to see ourselves as unfit, or in need of these nudges, and we don’t want to see ourselves that way either.

When you then have self-defense, coupled with self-criticism, it’s surely difficult to find room for self improvement.  But, we can shift our focus beyond ourselves.  Besides finding your own strengths to help you along to transcend, and get out of your own way—meditation, time in nature, faith, or creative pursuits—you can also rise above by focusing on what you value, such as care for your family, friends, and causes you believe in.

Compassion for others, or passion for other things, can open the door to self-compassion and patience to help ourselves. I’ll never forget the insightful words of one of my clients:  “When you focus on yourself, everyone else disappears.” 

Being able to find a shift in focus from inward to outward can empower you in a way that your inner critic can’t—even at times when it’s personalized, and guilt-inducing.  To think about your future, and create a new script for yourself, the plot is no longer driven by self-doubt, fear of shame, or a residual dread of parental disappointment, but by a higher purpose.  It’s a whole other animal to align your star with something greater.  What is your, ‘why’?

 1.   Detach yourself.

2.    Ask yourself why.

3.    Edit your story. 

4.    Add positive affirmations into your story. 

5.    Label your inner critic

6.    Befriend your inner critic. 

7.    Pay attention to the lessons.   

8.    Activate a new, growth-oriented inner voice. 

9.    Fake it until you make it. 

10. What if preaching annoys you? 

If this resonated with you, and you feel you need assistance moving forward, please don’t hesitate to reach out here.  Please also feel free to share with someone you think could benefit from these words.