How to Handle Your Inner Critic When She Gets Loud
Who is Your Inner Critic?
Are you familiar with your inner critic? She’s the voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, that you’re unworthy, and that you’re ugly and stupid and no one will ever love you or hire you. She’s the voice telling you that you need to change yourself in order to be acceptable.
Your inner critic is the mean girl you carry with you everywhere you go. She’s there when you wake up, she's right in your face as you get dressed, and she becomes particularly loud every time you consider taking a risk at work, going on a date, or you start to feel confident about yourself as a person.
We’ve all got voices in our heads of one flavor or another: anxiety, depression, eating disorder, self-doubt, “Coach,” our parents, etc. The inner critic is a popular one; most of us are well-acquainted with her. These voices each believe they have an important job to do. They try to do their jobs (and stay alive) by convincing us that they know better than us. But they don’t.
Our inner critic’s job is to keep us feeling bad about ourselves by telling us that we’re not good enough. That is her only purpose. And she is really good at it! She has lots of ammunition: she has held onto every failure we’ve ever had and every judgment and criticism we’ve ever heard or believed about ourselves. She wields them like weapons.
Our inner critic tells us all about how unacceptable we are, and we believe her. Then she convinces us that we need her criticisms. We believe she is actually helping us by pointing out our shameful bits so we don’t expose them to the world. She’s convinced us that we’ll be rejected if we show up to life as we are. This is how she stays alive. She needs to be relevant, or she'll cease to exist.
She knows which buttons to push; we do not want to be rejected. That’s etched deep in our brains. Back in the days when all humans lived in tribes, being rejected meant literal death. Those who were judged as “unacceptable” were kicked out of the tribe, and no one survived on their own. Our brains haven’t fully caught up that this is no longer the case.
Our inner critic capitalizes on this. She has us convinced that her wisdom could be lifesaving. She makes us believe that we are definitely unacceptable and are at serious risk of rejection – if we don’t listen to her. She flagrantly uses shame and fear to maintain her power.
Most of us listen to our inner critic without even realizing it. We don’t know we have the option of questioning what she’s saying. We believe she’s just stating the obvious truth. We also rationalize that we need to know our “bad” bits so we can make them better. Some of us are even convinced that she’s motivational! In actual fact, our inner critic is creating shame and an unwillingness to accept ourselves which is incredibly harmful to our sense of self.
It is imperative that we step back and see our inner critic for what she is: a mean girl trying to make us feel insecure to benefit herself.
From this perspective, it becomes clear that listening to our inner critic is not actually helpful, and in fact is destructive to our self-esteem. From this perspective, we can remind ourselves that our life is not at stake. We can start to imagine not listening to our critic. We can remind ourselves that she is fearmongering, and we can choose to disregard whatever she is babbling on about. Easier said than done, but doable.
How to Handle Your Inner Critic
The goal is not to try to silence or banish the inner critic. The goal is to disregard her. It is no easy feat to disregard someone we have so much history with, especially when she’s screaming at us.
Start by telling her that you are not going to listen to her. This is an empowering move – you are taking your power back and using it to ground yourself in your truth, not hers. You know better than she does. You are in charge, not her.
You only exist to make me feel bad about myself. I’m no longer interested in doing that.
You’re wrong, and I don’t need to listen to you.
I don’t allow anyone to speak to me like that.
I can’t stop you from talking, but I can choose not to listen.
I don’t need your opinions. Mine are much more relevant.
You’re preventing me from living authentically and juicily, so why would I listen to you?
You’re pretending to be helpful, but you’re not and never have been.
Next, turn your focus away from her and put it on you. Focus on anything that feels helpful (hint: it should not be fear-based). This can be anything that supports you and feels good to you. Here are some ideas:
Focus on anything that feels good or meaningful to you:
Talk to a friend
Go for a walk or stretch
Cook something delicious
Watch cute baby goat videos
Journal, draw, sculpt, or play music
Focus specifically on owning your worth:
Collect quotes about worth
Listen to a podcast that reminds you that we are all weird and imperfect and worthy
Repeat a mantra, something like: “I am imperfect and insecure, and I fully and completely accept myself.”
Read Already Enough by Lisa Olivera
Watch, read, or listen to anything by Brené Brown
Watch Ted Lasso
The more we focus on us and what feels helpful to us, the less interested we will be in what our critic has to say, and the easier it will be to disregard her. We have to be ready for this to take a while. Our inner critic is persistent and desperate – her existence is at stake! She’ll get much louder when she realizes we aren’t paying attention to her. We’re going to have to be as persistent as she is and disregard her over and over and over and over. Sometimes we won’t be able to. That’s okay.
It can feel scary to disregard someone we kind of think we need. If we don’t focus on the “bad” parts of ourselves, aren’t we going to become cocky? Complacent? Unacceptable? NO! Your inner critic was never “protecting” you from any of that. You are acceptable; that is your birthright. And if you don’t want to be cocky or complacent, I promise you, your inner critic is completely unnecessary. Self-awareness is what is helpful there.
So, what does happen when we disregard our inner critic?
The worst that will happen is that she will get louder, and her criticisms will get meaner. She’ll do whatever it takes to make us feel worthless and at risk of total rejection. She’s always been out for her own survival, not ours. Remember that she’s all talk – if we don’t take her seriously, she’s got no power to make us feel bad.
The best that will happen is that we will accept ourselves. When we accept ourselves, rejection no longer feels dangerous, and criticism is less wounding.
When we stop listening to our inner critic, we’ll be able to listen to ourselves. We’ll be able to focus on what feels good instead of what feels bad. There will be way more options and interesting paths to consider. Life will feel more fulfilling and vibrant.
Once we know who our inner critic is and what she’s about, her words have less impact. We can back slowly away from her and turn toward ourselves. That’s when life gets really good.