4 Strategies to Use When Your Inner Critic Just Won't Shut Up
I recently wrote a piece titled “’You Are Good Enough’ and 17 Other Reframes to Quiet the Inner Critic.” The piece draws from concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a treatment shown to be highly effective in reducing depression and anxiety by challenging negative self-talk. In my work as a therapist, I explain to clients that talking back to the inner critic and changing negative narratives about ourselves takes time and practice, but it can be done. Recognizing that this skill does take time, and sometimes the inner critic just won’t shut up, today I offer another strategy:
Accept your inner critic completely.
Easier said than done, right? You are probably wondering, But, how?! A lot of people feel frustrated when they try to quiet the inner critic with positive reframes, and find the negative personal insults, low self-esteem and hopelessness just keeps coming. When you need a break from arguing with your inner critic, try practicing these strategies to help you simply accept your inner critic instead.
1. Recognize the inner critic does actually have some positive functions.
The inner critic keeps you on your toes and helps you identify areas of growth. For individuals who have experienced trauma, the inner critic has often played an important role in keeping you safe. You may have learned if you can anticipate your own faults before anyone else does, this can help you fly under the radar and avoid negative attention. When your inner critic comes out in full effect, appreciate the fact you are doing the best you can and are always looking for ways to improve.
2. Observe negative thoughts without participating in them.
There is certainly a difference between helpful and harmful thoughts. Notice the impulse to make negative comments about yourself, and know you can observe these thoughts, without making them any louder. I encourage my clients to observe negative thoughts the same way they would watch a cloud passing in the sky. Watch these thoughts come… and go… without feeling any pressure to push them away any faster or hold on tightly to them. Say to yourself, Oh, OK, there goes my inner critic again and let these thoughts pass you by. Remember, you are not your thoughts.
3. Give yourself distance from critical thoughts by giving them their own identity.
Sometimes it can be helpful to personify the inner critic by giving them a name, a personality and even by visualizing what this cranky person would look like. By distancing yourself from negative thoughts, you are giving yourself permission to say, Oh, that’s not me, that’s just my depression. Or, That is just stress talking. Or, OK, I’m feeling anxious again. The Hilarious World of Depression, an amazing podcast about the surprisingly funny parts of depression, talks to a listener in this episode about using this exact technique. She talks about how calling her inner critic “Steve” gives her more power to pay attention to these thoughts, or just flat out disregard them. What would your inner critic’s name and personality be?
4. Imagine that your inner critic is along for the ride of life, but NOT driving the car.
In practicing acceptance, you know your inner critic will come out in times of stress, and that you don’t have to allow these negative thoughts to rule your life. You don’t have to give up on opportunities because you don’t feel deserving. You don’t have to give up on life just because you feel weak. And, you don’t have to feel like a failure because you haven’t tamed your inner critic just yet. Accept the inner critic, but live your life anyway.
When faced with any problem, we always have a choice between change and acceptance. When dealing with the inner critic, you can practice both strategies. Trying experimenting with change and acceptance-based strategies to find out what works best for you, and in what situations. Figure out what works for you, and know you are not alone in dealing with critical thoughts.
Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist in Oakland, CA who specializes in the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help individuals overcome depression and anxiety to live a rewarding life. Find out more: www.annacedar.com. Sign up for A Self-Care Moment newsletter and never miss an update.
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Thinkstock photo via MistakeAnn.