Reframe your inner critic: a guide
Our inner critics are always there. But can we use them to our benefit?
We’ve all got that voice in our head—the inner critic, always on our backs. Left unchecked, that voice can grow, and we can end up getting in our own way, without really knowing why. In this article, we’ll look at self-sabotage, along with the meaning of an inner critic, and whether we should be embracing it.
Why do we get in our own way?
You know the feeling of starting a new project? Getting excited, making sure you have the shiniest tools, the perfect setup. Then when it’s time to start, you don’t. You can’t quite say why, but you can’t follow through. That’s self-sabotage (you can hear more about it here). And rest assured, you aren’t the only one doing it.
The inner critic definition
The inner critic is the critical inner voice we hear that can make us feel judged and uncomfortable. Often, the criticism that comes from the inner critic can feel harsh or unjustified.
How do I get rid of the inner critic and stop self-sabotage?
One of the most important ways to silence your inner critic and prevent self-sabotage is to know your limits. Now, that’s easier said than done. But it’s right at the heart of the question. For lots of people, self-sabotage comes from not being honest with yourself.
If you commit to doing something that doesn’t feel natural, your mind will push back. So find out what feels natural to you, and if you say yes, make sure you mean yes. That will keep you in control of your expectations, help stop self-sabotage, and quieten that inner critic.
What causes the inner critic?
We all have inner voices, and most of us have many. They’re there for a reason, and range from the compassionate friend to the lizard-brain responsible for freaking out (that’s the amygdala). For many of us, the loudest voice of all is our inner critic.
It’s important to point out that your inner critic can be helpful. Caution and self-reflection have obvious evolutionary advantages—that’s why they exist. If we didn’t experience fear, we’d walk into oncoming traffic. However, with the pressures of the modern world, we can overcompensate.
Should you be silencing your inner critic?
It's important to remember that the inner critic is only a perspective. It may not right, but it’s often worth listening to what that voice says. Besides, research indicates our ability to consciously suppress unwanted thoughts is nonexistent—so even if we wanted to, we don't always have the ability to be silencing our inner critic.
How to quiet your inner critic
Our inner critic is an essential part within us. It’s existence itself isn’t problematic—what’s problematic is the execution. The nature of our inner critic’s feedback is almost always negative and comes out in a harsh and unsupportive manner. But it’s impossible to consciously suppress internal thoughts and emotions.
Resisting them will only make them stronger, leading to a more violent and furious reaction. So instead, the aim is to lean into our inner critic, which can actually teach us value, understanding, and how to learn.
How do you recognise an inner critic - and embrace it?
Focus on evaluating your behaviour, not yourself.
For example, instead of saying “I’m a lousy boss” focus on the behaviour and the things that happened. It sounds like this: “well actually, snapping at my colleague wasn’t very thoughtful or constructive.”
Rephrase your inner critic's message as if you were to give it to a best friend.
Chances are you’d aim to be constructive and kind when giving advice to a friend. Afford yourself that same consideration.
Combine your inner critic with an inner coach.
We’re always learning, and that means that we’ll make mistakes. So let’s embrace that, and use our inner voices to advise us on how to improve. An inner critic recognising where we can improve and an inner coach showing us how is a powerful team.
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Why perfectionism can be helpful
Perfectionism is vilified—it’s an easy scapegoat, and we often think of it negatively. However, in many situations, the costs of perfectionism can actually be outweighed by its benefits. It can be an essential part of that inner coach, helping us to push ourselves and direct our energy where it’s most useful.
So rather than taking a black and white approach, think of how perfectionism serves you—not as a negative force, but something that is part of you and contributes to your success.
Our inner critics are an essential—and unavoidable—part of life. Harnessing it can be powerful, and one of our favourite ways of harnessing it is through journalling. That’s one of the reasons we’ve developed the Braincare Journal. Find out more.