How to Befriend Your Inner Critic (instead of shutting her up)

I still remember my inner critic talking to me before I published my first YouTube video a few months ago. “What are you doing! You can’t go on YouTube! You’re too old! Your video skills are too basic. No one is going to watch. You’ll look foolish!”

Fortunately, I had been working on my inner critic for a few years, so I was able to hear her out and publish my video anyway.

It took me a long time to make peace with my inner critic, so I thought I’d share some of the strategies I use.

First, Remember Your Inner Critic is Not an Enemy

Your inner critic is a protector, a part of yourself that wants to protect you from rejection and pain.  It’s a blend of the voices and messages you absorbed as you navigated your childhood and adolescence. Your inner critic is rigid about following the rules you came up with that helped your life make sense during that time.

You weren’t born with an inner critic.  Your inner critic is a blend of voices and messages you learned as you navigated your childhood and adolescence, the rules you came up with that helped your life make sense at the time.

If your inner critic is causing you a lot of problems, is unnecessarily cruel, or thinks in very absolutist, rigid ways, it is probably operating by an old rule book – the one it picked up in your childhood or adolescence – a rule book that doesn’t apply to your current life.  

Your inner critic is not evil, it simply needs a new playbook.

Second, Unblend from Your Inner Critic

Your inner critic is an expert at making itself heard.  Your inner critic masquerades as you speaking an obvious truth.  “I am so stupid.”  

You can be a little clued in that it is probably your inner critic speaking if you are using all or nothing language about yourself, with no room for subtlety or complexity.  

The first thing to do is to rephrase your thought so you can separate from it.  So instead of, “I am so stupid”, you reframe it, “a part of me thinks I am so stupid.”  That allows space for other parts of yourself to show up that disagree.

Third, Tap into Another Aspect of Yourself

You are not a monolith, like a statue that never changes.  You are like the sky, with different weather that comes and goes.  Or like the movie “Inside Out”, where emotions were distinct personas inside Riley’s mind that all argued and disagreed with each other even as they wanted what they thought was best for Riley.

Your inner critic tries to take up all of the space in your mind, so that you’ll listen to her and her alone.  Take a few deep breaths to further calm your inner critic and bring out a more compassionate part.  

I believe that just as we have an inner critic, we also have a wise, compassionate self that is the composite of all of the kind, loving and wise people we’ve known personally, or absorbed through literature and movies and so on.  Others describe a wise mind, a core inner self or sense of knowing.  

This is the part of yourself that you want to tap into to have a conversation with your inner critic.

Fourth, Befriend Your Inner Critic 

Telling your inner critic to shut up or getting angry at her is only likely to make her become louder and more desperate and vigilant, ever on the lookout for proof that you should have listened to her.  

It’s so much better to have a conversation with her, to listen to her concerns.

Figure out what she is trying to accomplish, and respond accordingly, from your wise, compassionate self.  Here are some of the inner critic’s usual roles:

Protect you from failure.  This might sound like:

  • It’s a stupid idea
  • You’re not good enough  
  • You failed before
  • So and so already did this much better than you

And you can calmly refute her statements by saying:

  • The road to success is paved with risk
  • I’ll be okay
  • I’m stronger now
  • I don’t have to be perfect
  • I am allowed to be a beginner 

Keep you safe from rejection, from pain.  This might sound like:

  • No one likes you
  • You don’t belong 
  • You’re better off on your own 
  • You’ll look foolish
  • You’re unworthy

And you can calmly refute her statements by saying:

  • I am likable
  • I will be okay 
  • It’s worth the risk 
  • It’s important for me to do this  
  • You can’t connect if you aren’t making an effort  

Shame you into “negative” emotions and then shame you for feeling them.  This might sound like, 

  • You should be ashamed
  • It’s all your fault
  • You can’t do anything right  
  • Get over it already 
  • You’re pathetic  

And you can calmly refute her statements by saying:

  • I’m doing the best I can
  • Everyone makes mistakes
  • My feelings are valid
  • I am worthy
Inner-Critic

Fifth, Educate Your Inner Critic

Think about where your inner critic might have learned her messages. Maybe when you got sick as a child, your single parent yelled at you because it meant they had to take time off of work and they were stressed about that.  So now when you get sick, your inner critic gets mad and calls you weak and stupid.

Or maybe you broke a mug or a glass as a child and an adult in your life flipped out and severely punished you, so now when you break a mug or a glass, you automatically repeat some of the words you heard so long ago.

Ask your inner critic some gentle questions, to see if she can relax her hold on some of the rigid ideas she has. Is it really unforgivable to break a mug? What does breaking a mug really say about you? That you made a little mistake or that you are worthless?

Sixth, Feed Your Inner Critic a Different Diet

Most inner critics became strong because they were constantly fed messages that you are unworthy, that you’re not good enough. So your inner critic wants to hide you away, keep you from drawing attention to yourself, keep you safe.

Make a conscious effort to fill your head with positive, truthful things. Remind yourself of the good things that you do. You can experiment with affirmations, such as “I don’t have to be perfect.” “Sometimes good enough really is good enough.”  “There is nothing wrong with me.” “I have something to offer.” 

Hang out with people who see you and like you, who don’t seem to spend time judging you or other people.  

Conclusion

With patience, practice, and time, you’ll have a much better relationship with your inner critic and you’ll move through life with more ease and joy.

Related articles:

The Problem With Perfection

Create a Self-Care Action Plan that Works

Perspectives in Problem Solving


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