Talking Back to Your Critical Inner Voice

by | Dec 3, 2012

Have you ever told yourself your body\’s too fat, your hair\’s too thin, that you\’re a terrible mother, that you\’re not disciplined enough, smart enough, kind enough? Do you have an inner voice that\’s unjustifiably critical?

Critical inner voices can be detrimental to you in a number of ways that could limit you personally or professionally. Depending on the nature of that voice, it may be interfering with your relationships. For example, Don\’t be vulnerable and get too close to someone or you\’ll get hurt. If you listen to that inner voice, you\’ll pull back and find it difficult to have a strong, healthy relationship. Your critical inner voice will become a self-fulfilled prophecy and even harder to dispel once it\’s been reinforced.

What about your working life? Critical inner voices can sabotage your career by saying, Who do you think you are? You don\’t deserve to succeed. They can impede your goals. You have no self-control. You might as well eat another piece of cake. 

There are countless ways your critical inner voice can threaten your success as a human being and cripple your ability to move forward unencumbered. Even worse, your critical inner voice may be eroding your own sense of self and talking you into a depressed state.

If so, it\’s time to talk back.

The first step is to identify the voice. Is there an area in your life where you are especially self-critical? What are the criticisms about? Try to identify the nature of the negativity. Does it hinder you in some way? You can\’t try something new; you\’ll make a fool of yourself. Or does it give you permission you\’d rather not have? You\’ve already blown your diet, what\’s another helping going to hurt?

If you can identify the issue, then it is valuable to articulate it in the second person. Instead of saying, “I am worthless, and will never amount to anything,” distance yourself. Rephrase it by saying, “You are worthless and will never amount to anything.” Once you hear the criticism from another angle, you may begin to disengage.

Often, though, it\’s not enough to tell yourself to stop self-criticism, and you\’ll need to explore its root cause. The negative voice inside your head comes from somewhere. If it originates in bad early childhood experiences, it may take counseling to identify. For example, if your mother stood over you and repeatedly corrected the way you cleaned your room, did the dishes or fixed your hair, you may have formed the idea that you are generally incompetent and fairly worthless. The notion that you\’ve been worthless from early childhood could be deeply embedded and difficult to deal with. If your inner voice overwhelms you to the point of self-loathing, you might find depression counseling appropriate.

But perhaps that inner voice is critical but not debilitating. Maybe it\’s a bad habit that you can correct through hard work. Once you\’ve identified what the voice is saying, try to determine the reason why it exists. Changing the negative statement from “I” to “you” may help you identify the origin of the attack. You may realize, for example, that your mother used to make you feel you were worthless and would never amount to anything. Once you\’ve made that discovery, you are much more likely to view yourself with compassion, an essential ingredient in overcoming your critical inner voice.

Along with compassion, it\’s helpful to apply a dose of reality, and to look at the real qualities that define you. What are the positive things you do? What have you achieved in life? You are not as bad as your critical inner voice says, so talk back to it! Refute it with realistic compassion. Take action against it. Refuse to participate in the self-destructive behavior your voice encourages.

Once you have quelled that negative voice, you can begin to change the self-destructive behavior that resulted from it. Replace that behavior with positive steps. For example, if you have been convinced you would never amount to anything, make a list of your achievements. Congratulate yourself when you\’ve conquered an issue, such as discovering the origin of your negative voice.

All this is easier said than done, and can be expedited with the help of a qualified counselor. The good news is that with practice, the negative voice becomes dimmer. As you get older and your experience tells you your critical voice is wrong, that inner voice gets weaker and weaker. Finally it will get permanent laryngitis.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here:



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