Whenever we feel bad about ourselves, ashamed of who we are or unworthy, there’s someone to blame. In this post, we want to shed the light on the one who’s responsible for many people’s self-esteem issues. The one that sabotages the relationship you have with yourself by telling you that you’re to blame when things go wrong. Your inner critic.
You may have heard of them before. It’s the critical voice inside all of us. The voice reminds us of our failures and mistakes, and downplays our achievements and good deeds. The inner critic sets impossible standards and then ridicules us when we inevitably fail to meet them. It’s the voice telling us we’re not good enough, smart enough, motivated enough, attractive enough… you name it. It’s always comparing us to others to show just how much ‘not enough’ we actually are.
At its worst, the inner critic is downright cruel and damaging to your self-worth. You might hear it give you a list of all the ways you’re no good: you’re fat, stupid, ugly, lazy, self-fish, etc. It has the uncanny ability to hone in on any minor weaknesses you might have and inflate them so it seems as though that’s all you are. If you made a mistake at work, it might say, “You’re such a screw up”. Or if you’re hanging out with friends, your inner critic will claim to read their minds and tell you all the ways in which they don’t like you. Despite the voice coming from inside of us, it can be downright cruel.
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The Power of the Inner Critic
Here’s the scariest fact about the inner critic: We don’t even notice that it’s there. The critic is like a ninja that’s slowly entered our minds without us ever noticing, and by doing so it’s convinced us that every jab, every insult, is true.
This is probably the most important thing to become aware of. The inner critic succeeds because we believe it. It doesn’t matter how factually wrong it is, we presume the inner critic to be right. Self-judgment becomes such a part of our daily lives that it just feels normal. Natural, even.
Take a job interview, for example. Although it makes complete sense to be nervous about an exciting work opportunity, you might also find that critical inner voice reminding you of all the things you did wrong. These self-judgements overpower any rational observations you might have and instead focus on your incompetence. Your inner critic might say things like: “They’ll never hire you”, “You’re such a fraud”, or “You completely fumbled that interview. What an idiot.”
It might take a memory from some past event to ‘prove’ to that you are indeed an idiot. So afterwards it might also say, “You screwed up yet again”. This type of inner dialogue isn’t a fair reflection of events; it’s a twisted version - like a funhouse mirror at a carnival. Except this mirror is always with you, so over time these toxic images start to look normal.
What do you do about your inner critic?
Take a moment now to think about your inner critic. What negative self-image is your inner critic trying to paint? How do they see you? What words does your inner critic use to put you down or call you names?
And as you reflect, you might recognize the distortions the inner critic presents to you. Learning how to recognize and undo these distortions takes time. But when you do, you’ll be able to clearly see just how far away from the truth this portrayal is from who you really are. And that is a crucial first step to improving the most important relationship you’ll ever have - the one with yourself.