Is Your Inner Critic Beating You Up?

Is Your Inner Critic Beating You Up?

Have you ever taken a moment to listen to your inner voice? It’s that ongoing monologue in your mind when you are deep in thought. Have you noticed the tone of the voice? Sometimes it can be insecure, like on a first date or an interview, and sometimes it’s confident like those “I got this!” moments.

Other times, that voice can be encouraging and say “keep going” when you are writing a report, working on a presentation or running a race. However, there may be times when the thoughts are critical and even downright cruel.

One of the fundamental factors of Cognitive Behavior Theory is that thoughts lead to feelings. When we have positive thoughts, it can instantaneously lead to positive feelings. On the contrary, negative thoughts can leave you feeling lousy.

At first glance, this can seem simple. If you want to feel good, just think positive thoughts. Easy enough, right? Not always. It can actually be a tough task when you are trying to evaluate yourself and you have a harsh inner critic.

When one is a critic, it means that they are looking at the world through a lens of judgement. Critical thoughts are tricky, because at some level they indicate areas of improvement. They can serve us. They can keep us safe. One could even argue, there is a benefit in doing a critical self-inventory and fixing the areas in need. This lens can be helpful in motivating one to do better in school or work, and it can result in tremendous social accolades and personal accomplishments.

At the same time, critical thoughts have their downside when they only focus on the negative. Those thoughts could be taking a toll on your self-esteem. When experiencing the inner negative critic, it can create feelings of shame, sadness, hopelessness, or other negative emotions.

Also, negative critical thoughts may not be an accurate assessment. The glass is half-empty and half-full. Both are simultaneously true. Yet, when we solely look at the empty part of the situation, it does not let us experience the joy of what is full in our glass.

One could completely dispose of the negative thoughts, but I have found that people have trouble doing it in practice. So, here’s an idea. When you notice a self-critical judgment, use this formula:

Critical Statement + “AND” + Related Statement that is Positive, Kind or Gentle

The key is the second positive statement has to be true in order to feel valid.

For example:

  • “I didn’t run as fast as my friend AND I am strong enough to run a mile!”
  • “I was totally awkward at a work event AND I stayed to the end of the event and met someone new.”
  • “I didn’t get an A on the test AND I tried my best and passed the exam.”

I am not advocating to immediately and completely dispose of the critical thought. It may feel way too invalidating for your truth. That critical inner voice may be a long-time friend of yours that has been of value in your life. On the other hand, I am going to suggest incorporating the word AND in your inner monologue. In this formula, what follows the “and” will temper the unsympathetic tone.

Furthermore, if we are to objectively look at a situation, you need to take in all the facts. If you have a tough inner critic, adding a positive statement when evaluating yourself will help you observe the full situation and lead you to feeling better in the process.


Authored by: Alison Trenk MA LCSW