Is Your Inner Critic Driving You Crazy?
5 Ways to Quiet the Inner Critic and Be Kinder to Yourself
“Loving ourselves opens us to truly knowing ourselves as part of a matrix of existence, inextricably connected to the boundlessness of life.”
– Sharon Salzburg, The Force of Kindness
Do you have nagging thoughts that you’re not good enough? Is your mind cluttered with self doubt? You’re not alone. Those private self-bullying conversations are common to many of us. Often called the “inner critic,” this negative, self-critical voice can undermine how we feel about ourselves, our goals, and our effectiveness in life and work.
According to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD, the antidote for self-criticism is self-compassion. Self-compassion is treating ourselves kindly – accepting our strengths and our imperfections and treating ourselves with the same goodwill we would share with someone we care about.
Evidence indicates that self-compassion is not only better for our well-being but a more effective motivator than fear (Neff, 2011). Self-compassion can quiet the inner critic voice opening the doors to greater confidence and feelings of security. This kind of goodwill and love guided inward boosts the body’s capacity to produce oxytocin, a hormone that influences social interaction, emotional bonding, and reactions in some stressful situations. Conversely, fear provokes feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, putting our brains and bodies on alert and triggering a fight-or-flight stress reaction.
Further, evidence clearly indicates that self-compassion is not just a soft, feel good choice. Rather “self-compassion involves valuing yourself in a deep way, making choices that lead to well-being in the long term” (Neff, 2011). By offering themselves self-compassion, people are more able to cope with tough situations like illness, divorce, loss of job, and to engage in healthier life-style behaviors such as nutritional eating and exercise (Neff & Germer, 2019).
If we want to flourish in our personal and professional lives, conquering the inner critic can help us reach our full potential. Here are a few approaches to help you create a kinder, more productive relationship with yourself.
1. Notice what you’re thinking about. Acknowledge the thought and then remind yourself the inner critic voice is just a thought – that just because you’re thinking about something, it is not necessarily true. Remind yourself that thoughts and attitudes can be inaccurate, exaggerated, and biased by our personal experiences.
2. Respond to the inner critic by replacing negative critical thoughts with more accurate information. For example, a thought such as “I make too many mistakes, I’ll never reach my goal” can be balanced with a statement such as “I learn and grow from my mistakes and each one is another step toward reaching my goal.” Try writing down repetitive inner critic thoughts and the alternative statement you want to tell yourself.
3. Release the Inner Critic. This strategy to manage the inner critic may seem silly, but many find it useful. When you notice that critical inner voice, release it. For example, if you’re working on a project or writing assignment and thinking a self-critical thought, you might toss it in the garbage can or throw it in a jar and tightly close the lid. This strategy can offer a respite so you can move forward toward completing the task.
- Gently ask yourself the question “What do I need now?”
- Grant yourself a moment of warm-hearted self-compassion, acknowledging that you are where you are, even if you don’t know the answer or how to respond to your needs or the situation right now.
5. Remember you’re part of a larger whole. Check in with a supportive friend, colleague, or family member when your inner critic is shouting and you need a boost. Discuss the situation, request a reality check and some cheerleading. Have a “shortlist” of people you trust and can count on to offer encouragement and compassion when you need it.
6 . Each day be kind to yourself with self-care. Can you offer yourself a few minutes to take care of your mind, body, spirit? For example, take a walk, hit some golf balls, enjoy the sunset, go for a swim, do some yoga, or engage in mindfulness or meditation.
- Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.
- Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2019). The transformative effects of mindful self-compassion.
- Salzburg, S. (2010). The force of kindness. Change your life with love & compassion. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
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