Your inner critic is the sound of self-criticism. It’s the negative voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough. Telling you you’re doing a bad job. Convincing you not to try something new because you’re guaranteed to fail. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, I’ve got you.
As the description above illustrates, self-criticism is a tendency to have negative thoughts about yourself and evaluate yourself and your actions harshly. It can have serious emotional consequences, resulting in feelings of unworthiness, low mood, chronic anxiety, guilt and even depression.
You may struggle with self-criticism because:
Self-criticism can also be a symptom or result of perfectionism. In fact, you could say it’s like perfectionism’s wingman! It’s usually one of the first things people need to work on as recovering perfectionists.
No matter how self-critical you are, it’s always possible to change. Managing your inner critic requires practice but it does get easier over time.
The first step is to identify self-critical thoughts when they show up. Becoming more aware of your mind and how it’s working is such a good habit to get into. Once you’ve noticed a negative thought, you can start questioning and challenging it. You can also come up with an alternative, more positive thought. The final step is to then bring your behaviour in line with this alternative by being kind, accepting and compassionate towards yourself. If you’re struggling with this, thinking about what you’d say to a friend in the same situation is a good place to start.
If you follow these simple steps, your inner voice might sound something like this:
‘Ok, I’m having a self-critical thought that I’m rubbish at this. Is this true? What evidence do I have? Is there an alternative view? Maybe I feel this way because I’m still learning. Being a beginner makes me feel uncomfortable. My next attempt will be better. Maybe it doesn’t need to be perfect. What I’ve done so far is good enough. I’m going to keep going and feel proud of myself for trying something new.’
Now you know what to do when your inner critic shows up, we can think about the bigger picture.
Being highly critical of yourself could be a sign you’re struggling with low self-esteem. Self-esteem is how you value and perceive yourself. It’s based on your opinions and beliefs about yourself. Healthy self-esteem is key to positive mental health and wellbeing. It’s critical for cultivating a satisfying life, and it’s also a predictor of performance and success. People with healthy self-esteem show higher levels of resilience in the face of challenges and setbacks. Research also connects self-esteem to open-mindedness and self-confidence, both of which are useful if you’re trying to manage your inner critic.
I’ve shared lots of advice in my post 5 Ways to Tackle Low Self-Esteem. Journaling is another simple thing you can try. Not only is it a great way to express your thoughts, feelings and insights freely, it’s a useful tool for self-discovery, healing and overall wellbeing. Using specific journal prompts can help you focus your writing on an area that needs a bit of development, such as building self-esteem. Here are some you can try:
If prompts aren’t your thing, you could try keeping a daily log of your positive qualities in action. For example, ‘I’m polite – I held the door open for a stranger’ or ‘I’m kind – I helped my friend with a tricky situation.’
Learning to manage self-criticism and building self-esteem are things you can work on alone, but if you’re really struggling therapy can help. I love showing my clients with perfectionism and low self-esteem how to stop criticising themselves and move to a place of self-compassion instead. If you’re looking for a therapist, you can get in touch here.
I’ve created lots of other tools and resources designed to help people with their mental health maintenance. There’s my free guide to mindfulness, fortnightly newsletters and masses of information on my Instagram page, the.perfectionism.therapist.