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Why Letting Go of the Inner Critic Is Such a Struggle

Keeping your enemy close—the mistake so many people make.

Key points

  • Despite knowing that our inner critics harms us, many people struggle to let go of theirs.
  • Fearing mediocrity is often cited as one of the main reasons people don't want to let go.
  • Embracing your flaws through self-kindness and self-encouragement will get you further in life.
Unsplash / Nick Flancher
Source: Unsplash / Nick Flancher

In the world of self-improvement and personal growth, there's often a prevailing narrative that encourages us to silence our inner critic, to banish it to the furthest recesses of our minds. We're told that this inner voice, with its relentless criticism and negativity, is detrimental to our well-being and hinders our progress. And yet, despite our best efforts to suppress it, many of us find ourselves strangely reluctant to let go of this familiar companion.

But why is it so hard to say goodbye to the inner critic that is killing your self-confidence? What keeps you tethered to its judgment, even when you know it does you more harm than good?

1. Fear of Mediocrity

Paradoxically, the inner critic often masquerades as a motivational force, driving you to strive for perfection and excellence. Many fear that without its harsh judgments, they'll become complacent, settling for mediocrity instead of pushing to achieve their full potential. In this way, the inner critic becomes entwined with your aspirations, convincing you that its presence is necessary for success.

The reality is that the inner critic is tearing you down and hurting your self-confidence, not making you better. Parents somehow instinctively know that berating their child when the child is learning to walk doesn't work. Instead, they know to use an encouraging voice. Replacing the critic with a voice that encourages you instead of tearing you down will get you a lot further.

2. Familiarity Breeds Comfort

The inner critic, for better or worse, has been a constant presence in your life. It's a voice you've grown accustomed to hearing, perhaps since childhood. In a strange way, its criticisms can feel like a warped form of validation, reinforcing familiar patterns and beliefs about yourself, no matter how damaging they may be.

3. Coping Mechanism

For some, the inner critic serves as a coping mechanism—a shield against vulnerability and rejection. By preemptively criticizing yourself, you may attempt to guard against potential criticism from others, believing that if you're the first to point out your flaws, they'll sting less when pointed out by others. It's a flawed defense mechanism, but one that's deeply ingrained in your psyche.

4. Cultural Conditioning

Our society often glorifies self-criticism as a sign of humility and self-awareness. From an early age, we're taught to be self-critical—to constantly evaluate and improve ourselves. As a result, you learn to internalize this cultural narrative, equating self-criticism with virtue and self-worth.

5. Identity Attachment

Over time, you can become so identified with your inner critic that it becomes intertwined with your sense of self. You mistakenly believe that without its constant commentary, you'd lose touch with who you are—that the absence of criticism would leave a void in your identity.

Moving Toward Self-Kindness

Recognizing the reasons behind your attachment to the inner critic is the first step toward liberation. It's about acknowledging that while the inner critic may have served a purpose at some point in your life, its presence is no longer conducive to your growth and well-being.

Instead of silencing the inner critic through brute force, you can cultivate a more compassionate relationship with yourself. Self-kindness involves treating ourselves with the same compassion and understanding that we would offer to a friend in times of struggle. It means acknowledging your flaws and imperfections without judgment, and recognizing that your worth is inherent, regardless of your achievements or shortcomings.

By embracing self-kindness, you can begin to loosen the grip of the inner critic and create space for self-acceptance and growth. It's a journey fraught with challenges and setbacks, but one that ultimately leads to greater peace, fulfillment, and authenticity.

So, start talking back to the tyrant that is your inner critic. Tell it to go away; tell it that you don’t need or want it anymore. Welcome in its place the supportive voice of self-kindness, because when we embrace our imperfections, we discover the beauty of our humanity.

More from Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D.
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