The Mighty Logo

What I Needed to Hear to Begin Healing My Inner Critic

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

There is a therapy trick that I’m willing to bet you’ve heard of. It’s a popular technique used to quiet down negative self-talk, a type of reframing called “naming.” Basically, you give your inner critic a name with the intention of reducing its power over you.

• What is PTSD?

Some therapists might take it one step further by encouraging you to reimagine your inner critic as someone you are not a fan of. Then when that voice gets noisy, you go ahead and tell them off.

It might sound something like this:

Inner Critic:  No one likes you.

You: You know what *politician that I hate* no one likes you, I on the other hand, am awesome. So shut your face.

Commence healing.

As I mentioned, this is a popular tactic that works nicely for a lot of folks, and if you’re one of them that’s great. Sadly though, it doesn’t work for everyone, myself included. Indeed, it typically makes me feel even worse. So…

It was exactly what I needed to hear when I found out that my inner critic is trying to keep me safe. Allow me to explain.

This is a viewpoint that I’ve only come across recently, and I’ll be the first to admit that it can sound a little strange at first. It’s worth trying to understand, at least it was for me! Truthfully, this concept has brought me a sense of relief and it’s improved my ability to be compassionate toward myself. I think there’s good reason for this.

I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD,)  which is something I’m constantly trying to understand better. As I’ve learned more about this disorder, I found out that having a loud inner critic is a common problem for individuals with C-PTSD. Naturally, I wanted to know why.

There are a variety of theories about this, some of which feel like common sense. One idea is that in situations of chronic trauma or abuse, there is very likely to be constant negative messages and these eventually turn into similar self-talk. That seems obvious.

Yet there is another idea that I find fascinating, the idea that the critical inner voice may be a misguided attempt at protecting oneself. For example, if I think I’m the worst person in the world, then maybe others will too, and if so, maybe I’ll be left alone so no one can hurt me. Or… I’m the one that’s fundamentally “wrong and bad” (not the abusers), meaning that if I could just magically change myself then perhaps I’ll no longer be harmed. Yet the perfect version of me doesn’t happen, so I’m trash. Whoa that tracks… and also ouch.

It’s no wonder that telling off that voice didn’t feel all that great, it was already speaking to me out of a place of deep pain. Piling on more anger, blame, and shame was never going to help. I could never get the true message, and it was one I needed to hear: I’m trying to protect you.

I continue to learn what it means to show this voice compassion, but the longer I try, the better I am getting at it — and it does cause things to shift. Now instead of telling that voice to shut up, I try my best to have a kind conversation with it. This sounds a lot different.

Inner Critic: You are too much of a loser to get out the door.

Me: What are you afraid of?

Inner Critic: I’m afraid to go to this new yoga class because I don’t know anyone there and what if they are dangerous?

Me: That’s a valid concern, but you know what? I’m an adult now. If class doesn’t go well, I’ll simply leave. In the past through no fault of my own, I couldn’t always do this, but now I can. I will keep us safe.

Inner Critic: OK.

Commence actual healing.

Not all these conversations with myself are quite that smooth, happen quickly, and they can take a bit of thinking. Sometimes I need to pick things apart with the help of my therapist, a friend, or I sort it out myself. And yes I also occasionally continue down my self-hatred spiral, but it’s happening less. I will keep getting better, even with setbacks, and I’m proud of that.

Have you tried the technique of naming your inner critic? Was it helpful to you or did you find it caused additional problems? What do you think about the idea that this voice is trying to protect you? Do you think it would work to try and understand this with compassion? Other thoughts or comments, leave them below!

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

Getty image by golubovy

Originally published: August 5, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home