We all have an inner critic. Whether loud and pushy or a mere whisper, you can hear the words as if they are your own: No one likes you. You’ll never succeed at this. This is because your inner critic is a real part of you. Getting to know what makes the inner critic tick is the first step to getting it into your corner. Is it a voice in your head, a devil on your shoulder or a part of your personality? Experts explain it this way: It’s Freudian. The human psyche has more than one aspect, identified by Freud as the Ego, Id and Superego. “The clinical term for Inner Critic is Superego,” explains Fran Walfish, PsyD, California-based psychologist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. It is the part of the personality that incorporates social values and morals along with parental influences and is considered to be your conscience but also your ideal self. The Superego keeps other parts in check, but can also lead people to be extremely self-critical, she says. It’s not rational. The voice of the inner critic is often based on cognitive distortions. “The inner critic is the voice in one’s head that looks at behavior, failures or mistakes in an irrational fashion,” says New York Clinical Psychologist Michael Brustein, PsyD. “For example, if someone gets rejected from a job their inner critic may get activated and they may conclude they are a total failure. They are in a sense defining themselves and making a global attribution about a situational event.” People who have a history of negative family interactions are prone to having a more severe and punitive inner critic, he points out. It also protects us. Your inner critic is not always out to get you. “Often the inner critic is trying to protect the individual from something, such as failure, by being hard on them and pushing them to do more than they would without it,” explains Monte Drenner, LMHC, CAP, a licensed psychotherapist in Orlando. “For example, the inner voice calls someone in sales to set a higher sales goal than they normally would. This is the positive aspect of the voice.” Sometimes people need a push to achieve what they want in life. The negative aspect is when things don’t work out and the critic declares You are such a loser.
5 Ways to Cozy Up to Your Inner Critic
Your inner critic can sabotage you, as well as spur you to action. Here are a few expert tips to help you get better acquainted with your inner critic so you can maximize its usefulness and minimize the damage it can inflict. #1 Become an observer. Rather than buying into every harsh word, just listen. “The first goal is to become a benign self-observer,” says Walfish. “This is achieved by becoming more self-aware and noticing each time you think or feel a self-putdown.” Pull away from the situation like an impartial journalist trying to report a story. You might even take notes, jotting down the negative thoughts that flow into your mind. “Don’t try to change anything,” she says. “Just observe without judgment.” #2 Learn to discern. Search for ways your inner critic took root in childhood. “Some people are raised by a harshly critical mother, father or both,” says Walfish. “When this occurs, the individual may take in, or introject, a harsh Superego.” When you can identify and name the source, you can begin to counteract the emotional impact. Next time you hear, “You need to lose weight,” pause and realize: Ah, that’s my critical mother talking, not me. #3 Set boundaries. Don’t be a doormat to your inner critic. “The solution to the relationship with the inner critic is like relationships with others,” says Drenner. “Set boundaries.” If your critic is hard on you, always putting you down and making you second guess yourself, give it a piece of your mind. Whoa, that’s enough from you today or I am now taking time out to relax and you’re not invited. “When these boundaries are established then the individual can benefit from the positive aspects of the voice and be protected from the negative part,” he says. #4 Know your type. Taming your inner critic is easier when you understand the kind of critic you’re dealing with. Psychologist Jay Earley, PhD, and psychotherapist Bonnie Weiss, LCSW, identified seven types of inner critics in Freedom from Your Inner Critic. These include: Perfectionist: Sets high standards and tries to ensure you will not be judged or rejected Guilt-Tripper: Stuck in the past and unable to forgive past wrongs, tries to save you from further error by making sure you never forget Underminer: Eats away at self-confidence and does not want you to take risks Destroyer: Pervasively attacks your fundamental self-worth, shames you and makes you feel unworthy, usually as a result of early deprivation and trauma Molder: Wants to you to fit into the standards held by society and culture, and stifles the free spirit Taskmaster: Pushes you to work hard and fears you may be mediocre or lazy Inner Controller: Tries to control your impulses, such as eating, drinking and sexual activity, and is polarized with an Indulger, an addict who it fears can get out of control at any moment #5 Find your inner wisdom. Develop your “wise mind,” says Brustein, the part of your personality that is more rational, realistic and emotionally attuned. “Unfortunately, the internal critic’s beliefs about failure could create a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he says. This can cause people to withdraw, give up, feel defeated and develop depression. By looking through the lens of inner wisdom, you can modify biased and irrational thoughts. He says mindfulness techniques can help you stay in the moment of reality rather than fall into the pattern of cognitive distortion. By Laurie Sue Brockway