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3 Steps to Gently Challenge Your Inner Critic

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We all have an inner critic: that voice inside our head that points out every flaw, shortcoming, mistake, weakness, insecurity — you name it, your inner critic is constantly scrutinizing you for it.

For many of us, our self-critical voice is so ingrained in our daily thoughts that we don’t even notice when it’s rearing its ugly head. That inner dialogue that’s constantly running its mouth and causing you to feel bad about yourself? That’s your inner critic. And it can be unrelenting.

Unfortunately, that voice inside your head likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Why? Because we’re human! Because we’re striving to do our best and we’re pushing ourselves to live the life we know we’re capable of. In order to do this, we must have self-awareness and have the ability to recognize our areas for growth. In other words, we need that voice inside our head in order to keep learning and growing.

However, our inner critic is merely a part of ourselves that keeps us in check: it does not define who we are. And if we don’t pay attention to our inner critic, it can get carried away — and before we know it, we feel like the biggest failure ever.

Ugh, right? I bet at some point in your life (and maybe it’s now), you’ve been here before. It doesn’t feel very good. Luckily, you don’t have to be stuck in this cycle forever. You can learn how to tame your inner critic so that it’s not constantly sabotaging your headspace. Here are some steps you can begin taking to help your inner critic settle down (and leave some space for all the other amazing parts of you to speak up):

1. The first step towards changing the way you speak to yourself is to notice when you’re being self-critical. 

Try this: when you notice you’re feeling bad about yourself, trace the feeling backward to the specific thought you were having about yourself. Example: You’re feeling low and anxious on your way home from work. You notice this feeling of anxiousness, trace it back, and realize you were telling yourself, “I am so behind on my work projects. I have no idea what I’m doing, I suck at my job.” Ouch! Would you talk to a friend like this? No you wouldn’t, because it’s mean and untrue.

Simply notice your automatic thoughts and the key phrases your inner critic likes to tell yourself. Really get a clear idea of the themes and patterns. This is the first step — change begins with awareness.

2. Be intentional about gently challenging and reframing your inner critic.

This is the step that is generally the hardest for most people — they just want their inner critic to shut up, so they end up fighting fire with fire. See #3.

Example: You notice you often say to yourself, “I’m so awkward, there’s no way I’m ever going to make new friends.” You catch this and gently reframe it by saying, “I can act awkward sometimes, and that’s OK. I’m learning new skills so I can feel comfortable with new people.”

See how much lighter the second phrase sounds than the first phrase? With the second phrase, instead of getting stuck in feeling bad about yourself, you’re more likely to feel encouraged and hopeful.

3. Be mindful of being critical of your inner critic, because getting stuck in this cycle just perpetuates negative self-talk and feeling badly.

Example: You notice you say to yourself, “I’m so awkward, there’s no way I’m ever going to make new friends.” You catch this, and instead of gently reframing it, you say to yourself: “Ugh, why am I stuck in these negative thoughts again? Why can’t I just get it together? Am I ever going to be able to change?”

That’s not a very nice way to talk to yourself. Now on top of feeling bad about your social anxiety, you feel even worse because you’re feeling bad about your negative thoughts. Be gentle with yourself.

If you find yourself struggling with your inner critic, try these out and see how it goes. Just remember that change takes time. Be patient, be persistent and give yourself plenty of room to stumble around.

Photo by Elisa Ph. on Unsplash

Originally published: February 12, 2021
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