•Do you put yourself down for not being “good enough” or “smart enough?”
•Do you have difficulty knowing what’s realistic to expect of yourself?
•Do you compare yourself and often feel inferior or superior?
•Do you call yourself names when faced with frustration or defeat?
•Do you expect yourself to do everything right to the point of perfection?

If you answer yes to these questions you may have an overactive Inner Critic.

How We Develop Our Inner Critic

We all have an Inner Critic. It is that internal voice that tells us we are that we are falling short, that we didn’t do something well enough, that someone else could do it better, that our feelings are foolish, that we are making a big deal out of nothing, that we are ugly, stupid and/or fat.

Ironically, the Inner Critic actually developed as an attempt to minimize pain and maximize feelings of safety and security. In early childhood we need to believe that our parents and caretakers are loving, responsible and hold our best interests at heart. We are completely dependent on them. As youngsters, we have no way of comprehending the real stressors facing adults, the emotional limitations people bring to their caregiver role and the emotional baggage that gets transferred from dysfunctional extended family patterns.

As an example, if a mother is depressed and unavailable to meet her child’s needs, that child will feel too vulnerable to conclude that the mom is, in fact, inadequate. Instead the child will think “I’m too needy,” or “I don’t deserve the attention I want.” The Inner Critic’s voice steps in to say “It must be my fault” rather than assess that the parent is compromised.
Why We Listen to the Inner Critic

We maintain a myth that the Inner Critic holds our best interests at heart, that it wants to “improve” us and help us to feel more adequate. Many of us believe that we would never motivate ourselves to achieve if we didn’t put ourselves down or get angry in response to disappointments. We may even believe our Inner Critic’s threats and feel scared that bad things might happen if we don’t listen to its blaming and shaming voice.

These beliefs are myths. They are held by stories that we told ourselves a long time ago. Those stories got shaped by distorted ideas that held us responsible, and at fault, for circumstances beyond our control. They have been strengthened by the Inner Critic’s inability to perceive the inevitable complexities of life.

What’s The Brain Got To Do With It

The thinking mind is controlled by the hardwiring of the brain. The brain actually has literal pathways, called neural networks, made up of thoughts and feelings that get associated over time. When early life experiences provide high exposure to helplessness, fear, and pain, these neural networks grow and increase likelihood of feeling distress and anxiety. This can compromise our ability to regulate emotions and calm the mind/body system.

Self-talk, that inner dialogue between parts of our own mind, is influenced by these neural pathways. When we live with disapproving parents, teachers or friends, we internalize their harsh messages. Our brains literally develop patterns that repeat them.

As human beings, we tend to believe that everything that goes on in our mind is valuable and accurate. This is not true.

Our Inner Critic is not the keeper of the truth, it is simply an internal voice that pulls for our attention. The more we listen to it, the more we strengthen it and subject ourselves to its harmful force.

How to Listen to the Voice of the Inner Coach

While the Inner Critic may be strong, it can be calmed. It will never go away completely but we can learn strategies to reduce its destructive power and, in doing so, we build new neural networks that support our well being and self-esteem.

Just as it developed over the course of years, so too can our Inner Coach get stronger over time. It needs practice and training to help us tolerate the discomfort that comes when we refrain from self-criticism, accept positive feedback and use more encouraging language with ourselves.

Here are some ideas to guide you on your journey to calm your Inner Critic and to build your Inner Coach.

Tips for Building Your Inner Coach

1) Become mindful of when and how your Inner Critic talks. Write down its words and notice its patterns.

2) Explore the sources that have fed your Inner Critic - what messages did you receive from family, friends, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, etc?

3) Interrupt the negative self-talk. Literally say stop when you hear self-criticism.

4) Resist comparing yourself to others.

5) Catch the ways you overgeneralize, taking one fact or event and making a generalized rule out of it.

6) Eliminate the use of “should” and “shouldn’t” from your vocabulary. They promote feelings of shame and rarely help to provide perspective.

7) Practice the voice of an Inner Coach. Start by identifying what positive coaches say and then write down some of the encouraging messages you need to hear from your positively inspired Inner Coach.

8) Practice speaking words of compassion. As is true for all learning, we develop through imitating.

9) Be patient.

10) Seek help from those who can make a difference – therapists, religious leaders, friends, etc. Participate in a workshop that strengthens your self-esteem skills.

Educate yourself about the mind, especially the critical and negative aspects of the mind:

-The Self Esteem Companion, by McKay, Fanning, Honeychurch & Sutker
-Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, by Firestone, Firestone & Catlett
-How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be, by Cheri Huber

Author's Bio: 

Jane Shure,PhD, LCSW and Beth Weinstock, PhD, are known for their expertise in self-esteem, trauma, shame, and eating disorders. They write for the Huffington Post and co-authored “Shame, Compassion, and the Journey to Health” in Effective Clinical Practice in the Treatment of Eating Disorders: The Heart of the Matter, co-edited by Jane. Jane also co-authored The Inside/Outside Self-Discovery Program for the Middle School Years: Strategies to Promote Emotional Well-Being, Fortify Resilience, and Strengthen Relationships. For the past 15 years, they have been leading workshops in the Philadelphia area, at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA, and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. Jane and Beth are nationally renowned public speakers, and co-founders of SelfMatters.org, dedicated to strengthening healthy self-esteem. Jane is also the creator of “The Doctor’s In” blog on JaneShure.com.

Jane: JKShure@comcast.net 215-849-3153
Beth: bweinstock@comcast.net 610-664-2996