Most of us are familiar with those nagging thoughts that tell us we are not good enough. You might know about the thoughts that cast doubt on our goals and undermine our accomplishments. These thoughts might greet us when we first glimpse at ourselves in the mirror in the morning. “You’re so unattractive. You’re fat. What a slob. Just look at your hair, butt, waistline…” Often times, we don’t even realize we are saying these things to ourselves.
This inner critic might meet you at work. “You’re under too much pressure. You’ll never get everything done”. Or maybe it’s, “No one even notices me. No one cares what I have to say”. It might even meet you at the refrigerator and say “you’re bored, eat that cake!”. It shows up to critique your closest relationship and says, “he/she doesn’t really love me.” Or maybe it says ” you’re not good enough for him.” You get the idea, these are our negative thoughts, the ones that hold us back from doing something or not doing something..
Every person is divided
It’s not good vs. evil, but rather positive vs. negative. There is a part of us that is goal-directed and self-possessed, while another part is self-critical, self-denying, and even self-destructive. This “anti-self” perpetuates a negative thought process.
The critical inner voice
The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences. These may have been events that we witnessed or we experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or to those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others. When we fail to identify and separate from this inner critic, we allow it to impact our behavior and shape the direction of our lives. It may sabotage our successes or our relationships and prevent us from living the lives we want to lead and becoming the people we seek to be. So how can we challenge this inner voice? How can we recognize its commentary and differentiate it from its directives?
The critical inner voice can be thought of as the language of the defensive process. It has been defined as an integrated system of thoughts and attitudes. The concept of the “voice” is not restricted to cognitive processes but is generally associated with varying degrees of anger and sadness we have developed from our childhoods.
The term “voice” is used to describe a form of inner communication. It represents a split within the individual between feelings that are life-affirming and those that are antagonistic to the self. Listening to the voice, that is, believing its prescriptions and prohibitions leads to self-limiting behavior and negative consequences. In other words, people often make their actions correspond to their self-attacks. They hold back from things they feel inadequate with. What do we do about this self-sabotaging voice?
Identify What Your Critical Inner Voice is Telling You
In order to challenge negative attacks, you must first become aware of what your critical inner voice is telling you. You can do this by identifying an area of your life where you are especially critical of yourself. Then pay attention to what the criticisms are. You are encouraged to express your critical thoughts as you hear or experience them. You may find that this often leads to them accessing the hostility that underlies this self-attacking system.
Recognizing Where Your Voices Come From
After you express or verbalize these critical inner voices in this manner you may gain insight into the source of their attacks. You may have unusual clarity, as you begin to recognize that the content and tone of the voice attacks are old and somewhat familiar. These voices are expressing attitudes that were directed toward you, done to you or not done to you as a child. Recognizing where the voices originated from helps you to develop compassion for yourself.
Respond To Your Critical Inner Voice
Responding to your inner voice is important to make rational statements about how you really are. It will show you who other people really are, and what is true about your social world. When your inner voice tells you something negative, turn it around and explain how for example you are not undeserving and have a lot of value. Or maybe it’s that your opinion is important, but everyone is just busy with their work right now. Whatever the inner voice is telling you, make it understand that you’re not accepting of what it says. You are instead accepting the other version, which is the positive one that you have also heard.
Understanding How Your Voices Influence Your Behavior
After expressing and responding to your inner voices, you may be naturally curious and eager to understand how these patterns of self-defeating thoughts have influenced your past and impacted your present-day behaviors. Having this understanding of how the critical inner voice has affected your actions is helpful when you want to change specific self-limiting behaviors.
Changing Your Self-Limiting Behaviors
Once you have identified the areas in which you limit yourself, you can begin to change.
You can do this by taking these two actions:
- Don’t engage in the self-destructive behavior that is being encouraged by the critical inner voice
- Increase the positive behaviors that go against the recommendations of the voice.
This may sound strange, but identifying and talking back to your critical inner voices can be harder than it seems. Change may cause anxiety, and getting rid of an inner critic is no exception. Often, when people begin to challenge their negative attacks and act against their internal directives, the attacks can grow stronger and more intense. Some people mistakenly believe that their critical inner voices are what keeps them in line. They fear that if they do not listen to them, they will act badly. However, the more you act against the critical inner voice, the weaker its influence on your life becomes and the freer you become because of it. It’s gonna take some guts.
It’s not your conscience or a moral guide
The critical inner voice is not your conscience or a moral guide. What most distinguishes the inner voice from conscience is its degrading, punishing quality. Its demeaning tone tends to increase our feelings of self-hatred instead of motivating us to change undesirable actions in a constructive manner.
The balance between our two different sides is delicate and can be easily tipped. However, we don’t need to be the victims of our moods as they tip back and forth between our positive and negative feelings about ourselves. By identifying the critical inner voice and the role it plays in supporting our negative self-image, we can take action against it and significantly change our lives. We can reject attitudes that oppose our best interests and diminish our self-esteem. We can stop self-defeating and self-destructive behavior.
As you free yourself from your critical inner voice, you will be free to engage in your pursuit of happiness and finding your meaning in life. You will feel at peace with yourself and closer to those you love. You will enjoy a compassionate view of the world and an optimistic outlook on life. It’s won’t happen in one day, so keep at it and eventually, you will be free from it.