The Inner Critic is the nagging voice inside your head who constantly criticizes you. In reality, you do this yourself, but in therapy or if you want to change, it is advisable to treat that criticism as separated from yourself. There is a direct and an indirect way how the Inner Critic can harm your self-esteem. While the direct way is not that difficult to spot, the indirect way is more insidious and pollutes your self-esteem behind your back. If you want to overcome low self-esteem, pay attention to the latter one, as it may undermine your efforts in the long run.

A. The direct way – Criticizing and depreciating you
Assertions the Inner Critic makes about you that devalue your self-worth can damage your self-esteem. There are three ways how the Inner Critic harms your self-esteem.

1. Distorted thoughts and beliefs
The Inner Critic uses untrue assertions to accuse you. They are the result of the so called cognitive distortions or, to put it simpler, distorted thoughts and beliefs. The Inner Critic is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He is often wrong or generalizes. “I am a loser” would be such a generalization.

2. The tyranny of values
The Inner Critic uses your values and uncompromisingly demands their fulfillment. When you don't achieve them, the Inner Critic judges you for that and calls you names. While there is nothing wrong with having values, they work against you, if they can tyrannize you. Perfectionism is a result of misapplied values.

3. The harsh voice of the Inner Critic
The Inner Critic talks to you in a harsh, judgmental voice. This voice often coincides with the first and the second tool, but not necessarily. Without this brusque, derogatory voice the Inner Critic is almost toothless, but if you don't deal with all of his tools, his voice will always slip back to the judgmental mode.

How you can deal with these three tools of the Inner Critic is discussed at length in my book (here comes the commercial!) Natural Self Esteem. But now to the consequences of enduring criticism by your Inner Critic.

B. The indirect way – Missing life
The Inner Critic succeeds if we internalize his criticism and believe in it. Now, there is no distance any more between “us” and the criticizing thoughts and beliefs. They are now our thoughts.

These thoughts we have about ourselves, about who we are and what our abilities are, amount to evaluations of our capacities to do certain things when we face problems or challenges. These evaluations determine our day-to-day decisions to what extent we dare to participate in life and live a life that matters. Or to what extent we seclude ourselves from life, living a life of “quiet desperation” as Henry David Thoreau put it .

A life not lived is sad in and upon itself; but, to make things worse, very often we judge ourselves for “being a failure” on top of it. Here the Inner Critic steps in again. A vicious circle of depreciating statements and reaffirmed conclusions of who we are and what our abilities amount to keeps low self-esteem at a low threshold.

This vicious circle has to be stopped. Keeping the Inner Critic at bay and working with the three direct tools will improve the way you think about your abilities. Nevertheless, you can take charge at an earlier stage by simply questioning your assessment of your abilities. Whenever you caught yourself making a statement like, “I could never do this … “ or “I am a bad … ,“ call this statement in question. Chances are high that, because of your damaged self-esteem, these assessments do not represent the truth. Dismiss them and be open to new opportunities. You will probably discover that you are more capable than you think.

Author's Bio: 

Olaf Schwennesen, M.A. is a certified coach for solution focused therapy and a licensed natural health professional for psychotherapy. He works as a lecturer and trainer for social and methodical competences and in private practice in Berlin, Germany.

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