As a therapist I sometimes feel embarrassed to admit how negative my inner voice can be. Even though I practice and teach self-acceptance, self-love, and self-compassion, when I notice myself feeling insecure and threatened, I can become judgmental and critical of myself.
What I have come to realize is that as human beings, we all carry an inner voice that can be critical of ourselves and others. I do believe we can tame this voice so that it does not lead to destructive behaviours. The key lies in what we do when the inner critic comes up and how much power we give it. I have come up with my own process for taming my inner critical voice that I continually use and would love to share with you!
1. Identify the inner critic’s voice.
What is it saying? This first step is so important, and oftentimes we aren’t even aware of the commentary we have running through our heads throughout the day. I remember when I was first working on this process; I wasn’t even aware of the things my inner critic was telling me because of how much I was unconsciously accepting it as my reality. It’s important to take time to stop and notice what the voices actually are. They often show up as thoughts and statements we tell ourselves. Some examples of inner critical voices that might show up are I am not good enough, he/she really doesn’t love me, or I am fat and ugly.
2. Once you have identified what the inner critical voice is, write it down in second person.
For example, the critical voice of I am not enough would be written down as you are not enough. This process of re-writing the critical voice from “I” to “you” will help you to separate yourself from the critical voice and is a crucial step to help weaken your association with the particular statement (which will come in handy for step 3).
3. Ask yourself, who is this voice coming from?
What many people might not realize is that the inner critical voice is actually not you and didn’t even originate from you. The voices are often learned from the experiences we have had with the significant people in our childhood such as our parents, other family members, teachers, friends, and other societal influences that we have come to internalize and identify with. When I first started this process, I began to recall specific memories from my childhood where I first started to identify with particular critical voices. They were based on interpretations of how I believed my parents felt about me as a child and even things my peers verbally voiced to me. Recognizing that the critical things I was telling myself were not actually coming from me (and naming who it actually came from) really helped the voices lose their power.
4. Forgive yourself and the person whose voice you’ve internalized
This process is not easy. I still struggle with this at times. What has helped me in this process of forgiveness is remembering that each of us are always doing the best we can from what we know. Having compassion for ourselves and others helps us remember that most of the time, people do not purposely do or say things to hurt us.
5. Send the inner critical voice loving-kindness (and even gratitude)
When I become aware of a statement or judgment my inner critical voice is saying to me, I thank it for bringing itself to my attention to help remind me of the love and kindness I need to give myself more of. Because the inner critical voices are aspects of ourselves from childhood that did not get the love and attention they needed, I find talking to the voices as if they were a child to be very healing and effective. I speak to the voice and ask it what it needs, and then provide it (myself) those needs. In addition to this, I also make a conscious effort to reframe the voice into a truth, reminding myself of the untruth the voice represents. For example, if the voice of I am not enough pops up into my mind, I reframe the statement to I am enough and then engage in loving actions towards myself like doing a self-care activity.
I believe many people do not realize how much of our past we carry into our present. Our inner critical voices are aspects from our childhood that are desperately seeking our attention to be acknowledged, processed, and healed. By following these steps, you will notice that over time, you will grow stronger while the inner critic grows weaker!
If you feel you can use extra support around combating your inner critic, remember you are never alone on this journey. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to a friend or loved one for support. There is also professional help available and I can also help support you.