How to Tame Your Inner Critic
Research reveals a powerful strategy to quiet self-criticism.
Posted Dec 03, 2019
Do you have nagging thoughts that you’re not good enough? Are you secretly assaulted by self-doubts?
You’re not alone. Those private self-bullying conversations are common to many of us. Often called the “inner critic,” this negative, self-critical voice can undermine how we feel about ourselves, our goals, and our effectiveness in life and work.
According to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff (2011), the antidote for self-criticism is self-compassion. Self-compassion is treating ourselves kindly—accepting our strengths and imperfections and treating ourselves with the same goodwill we would share with someone we care about.
Research indicates that self-compassion is not only better for our well-being but a more effective motivator than fear (Neff, 2011). Self-compassion can quiet the inner critic, opening doors to greater confidence and feelings of security. This kind of goodwill guided inward boosts the body’s capacity to produce oxytocin, a hormone that influences social interaction and emotional bonding. Conversely, fear provokes feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, putting our brains and bodies on alert and triggering a fight-or-flight stress reaction.
Research reveals that self-compassion is not just a soft, feel-good choice. Rather, “self-compassion involves valuing yourself in a deep way, making choices that lead to well-being in the long term” (Neff, 2011, p. 166). By offering themselves self-compassion, people are more able to cope with tough situations like illness, divorce, loss of a job, and more likely to engage in healthier lifestyle behaviors such as nutritional eating and exercise (Neff & Germer, 2019).
If you want to flourish in your personal and professional life, conquering the inner critic can help you reach your full potential. Here are a few approaches to help you create a kinder, more productive relationship with yourself.
1. Notice what you’re thinking about. Acknowledge the thought and then remind yourself that the inner critic voice is just a thought—that just because you’re thinking about something, it is not necessarily true. Remind yourself that thoughts and attitudes can be inaccurate, exaggerated, and biased by our personal experiences.
2. Respond to the inner critic by replacing negative critical thoughts with more accurate information. For example, a thought such as “I make too many mistakes, I’ll never reach my goal,” can be balanced with a statement such as “I learn and grow from my mistakes and each one is another step toward reaching my goal.” Try writing down repetitive inner critic thoughts and the alternative statement you want to tell yourself.
3. Release the Inner Critic. This strategy to manage the inner critic may seem silly, but many find it useful. When you notice that critical inner voice, release it. For example, if you’re working on a project and thinking a self-critical thought, you might toss it in the garbage can or throw it in a jar and tightly close the lid. This strategy can offer a respite so you can move forward toward completing the task.
4. Embrace imperfection with compassion. Self-compassion is kindness channeled inward toward ourselves. Neff and Germer (2019) suggest that rather than resist our internal bullying, we can accept that life is difficult—that we are all imperfect beings in the human condition living imperfect existences. Try this:
- Gently ask yourself the question, “What do I need now?”
- Grant yourself a moment of warm-hearted self-compassion, simply acknowledging that you are where you are, even if you don’t know the answer or how to respond to your needs or the situation right now.
5. Remember you’re part of a larger whole. Check in with a supportive friend, colleague, or family member when your inner critic is shouting and you need a boost. Discuss the situation, request a reality check and some cheerleading. Have a “shortlist” of people you trust and can count on to offer encouragement and compassion when you need it.
6. Each day, be kind to yourself with self-care. Can you offer yourself a few minutes to take care of your mind, body, spirit? For example, take a walk, go for a swim, do some yoga, or engage in mindfulness practice.
This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.
Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2019). The transformative effects of mindful self-compassion. https://www.mindful.org/the-transformative-effects-of-mindful-self-compassion/.