The inner critic isn’t always gentle or kind, but it can serve a purpose. A concept often referred to in popular psychology as the superego, the inner critic can be experienced as a judging inner monologue comprised of internalized ideas. This storytelling process may or may not be entirely conscious.
In many cases, the inner critic highlights important and constructive aspects of the self, keeping people on their toes, growing, and even safe during difficult times. Yet for others, the inner critic teases, judges, and makes the person feel small. This can impact the way someone feels and thinks about themselves and the way they move through the world. Ultimately, this affects their actions, and therefore, life.
We all have an inner critic – it’s just that for some, the inner critic has such a loud voice that it’s hard to hear anything else.
Calibrating the right volume and tone of the inner critic is not so easy to achieve. It certainly isn’t just people who are actively engaged in psychotherapy treatment who struggle with this inner negative voice.
As a licensed psychotherapist currently working at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research
, I have heard many patients describe an inner critic that sounds like a bully taking over the mind. When our inner critic becomes the only voice we hear, those negative thoughts can impact our self-worth. It can be incredibly useful to start asking yourself – Where does this voice really come from? In my professional experience, the answer is often threefold:
2) "It sounds like my family or a social circle."
3) Rooted in societal demands
Whatever the story's root is, expectations and criticisms are often internalized and can be experienced as our belief system. So what can we do about finding a constructive balance?
Recognize the Inner Critic
The first step in understanding your inner critic may seem obvious – recognize that it exists. Acknowledge the voice. For instance, make a gentle mental note, without judgment if possible.
Mindfulness – a practice of noticing when thoughts of self-judgment arise in the present moment – will enable you to identify when the inner critic decides to rear its storyline into the stream of thoughts. The more one can build their mindfulness muscles, the more compassion they can discover within themselves, and the less room there is for the inner critic to feel out of balance.
The second step is to try again. Pause. Notice ruminating and negative thinking in the present moment. Remember that practice makes perfect. But also, in a twist, don’t forget to embrace the imperfections, as they make us unique.
Befriend the Voice Inside
Similar to befriending someone new in life, the process of understanding the inner critic is a curvilinear journey and takes time. Stay curious, open, and interested in what this inner critic has to say. Until we know what’s happening or being said, it’s tough to do something about it or create real change.
Listening to that inner critic can open the eyes to potential changes that need to be made, opportunities to heal wounds, desires to better understand, and relationships to be cultivated. It’s also important to acknowledge your successful efforts to listen inward. By doing so, you may experience increased confidence and self-efficacy.
Recognize Unhealthy Patterns
Unhealthy patterns can quickly turn up the inner critic's volume, so it’s important to consider behaviors that need to be replaced with healthier habits.
Alcohol, for instance, can be an emotional tonic. Be mindful of self-medicating habits intended to enhance or numb experiences. Remember that alcohol is a depressant that negatively affects physical and mental health. Separately, balancing family and work responsibilities can become a significant juggling act. Be aware of the infamous burnout, which results from mental exhaustion and can quickly fuel the inner critic.
As you move forward, here are some actionable tips to help you stay on track with a positive mindset and a balanced inner critic:
If you are struggling with an inner critic – know that you’re not alone. This is something we all face from time to time. Implementing mindfulness strategies, and if necessary, working with a licensed psychotherapist can be life-changing. You are more than your inner critic may have you believe – and you are stronger than you think.