Finding freedom from your ‘critical inner voice’
It doesn’t have to take years of therapy to identify one’s own critical inner voice. You can observe it yourself during the coming weeks as an experiment, if you’d like. Simply watch how you react to some small inconvenience or problem that you know you’ve caused – for example, how you react if you reach the train station and realise you left your train pass at home, or if you drop a piece of buttered toast sticky side down on a freshly mopped floor. Perhaps you observe that your shoulders are the first to tighten, perhaps an expletive is silently uttered as you work out what to do next.
In this article, we’re going to explore how critical inner voices function and how they are actually a key factor in maintaining psychological disorders and can even prevent or undermine your efforts to feel good.
Exploring ‘what ifs’ and the spectrum of inner voices that follow
Before delving in to what can go wrong when a critical inner voice gains too much power in an individual’s psyche, it can help to explore the contrast offered by a healthy inner voice. In the small examples provided in the introduction, of leaving one’s train pass at home or dropping a piece of buttered toast, it’s perfectly natural for a person to use a curse word of some kind, shake off feelings of annoyance and carry on with their day.
However, what if you treated yourself in a kinder, more nurturing way, and perhaps respond to yourself in the same way you would to your best friend – or someone you’ve just fallen in love with? No curse words, just positive encouragement and gentler statements like ‘hey, it’s okay, this happens to everyone, don’t be hard on yourself’.
Staying with the same small examples, what if the critical inner voice goes further and echoes voices from childhood through to their adult years, with statements like ‘I can’t do anything right!’, ‘why do I always screw everything up’, ‘I’m rubbish’, ‘gosh I’m useless’, and so on. As we can see, harsher statements like these don’t foster a mental environment of confidence or faith in one’s own abilities – an environment which doesn’t inspire a person to strive for more in life.
What if we tinker with the examples and make them more extreme? Perhaps you falsely quoted something in a presentation at work that cost your business a large client and even your job? Or perhaps you allowed a prank caller access to a high profile person that you were charged with protecting – a real life example that led to a nurse taking her own life back in 2014. As we can see, internal self-talk can make a big difference to not only how we feel in any given moment, but also to what kind of future possibilities open up to us as a result.
How the inner critic breeds depression and anxiety
Just as moisture and warmth provide the perfect conditions for mould to grow, a highly critical inner voice provides an over-arching condition that enables psychological difficulties to grow and even flourish. People who internalise an extremely critical inner voice are far more likely to suffer from mental health difficulties, from depression, to anxiety, sleeplessness and stress. Many research papers have shown a high correlation between being overly self critical and experiencing psychological difficulties.
Where does this critical inner voice come from? While there are no prizes for guessing it comes from an overly critical parent, some of you might be surprised to hear that this voice can be internalised by watching a parent who is overly critical of themselves.
Picking up the warning signs early
Managing and even transforming a critical inner voice and turning it into an ally can be a lifelong journey. Observing how it operates is the first step. Exploring where you have feelings of low self-worth or even a negative self-image is next. Perhaps you’re overly critical of how you look or how you dress. Maybe you’re overly critical of your work or your creative self-expression. You may be critical of how you handle yourself in relationships – or indeed, how others handle you, which is far more prevalent. Perhaps you’ll ruminate over something, long after the event has passed.
Outsmarting the clever tricks used by critical inner voices
Visualising the inner critic can help you understand its behaviour in your life. Some people see theirs as a little gremlin that sits on their shoulder, others simply hear their own voice in their heads, providing a running commentary on every little thing. Meditation is one way of creating space in one’s internal world so that such voices don’t have so much power.
You can tell if you’re in the grip of a highly critical inner voice if you resist letting it go. Many people protest and say things like “but if I wasn’t so hard on myself, I would never succeed, or make improvements to my life.” Part of the work we do with our clients is show them how it’s the critical inner voice that is preventing you from enjoying the good that’s in your life and from capitalising on it further.
Therapies that provide life-changing results
Choosing to work on healing your critical inner voice and turning it into an ally that will support your growth, is perhaps one of the most pivotal and life-changing things you can do to improve your mental well-being. It’s the kind of work that can transform an under-performing mental environment, into one that fosters personal transformation and excellence.
We use Compassion Based Therapy, Mindfulness Based Therapy and Thought Diffusion to name a few. Determining how deep you want to go, how committed you are to the process and what kind of results you want to achieve will all help in devising the right approach for you.
We’ve helped countless people who have struggled with a critical inner voice transform their lives to being more productive and fulfilling than ever before. If you would like to discuss how we can help, then please do contact us for a confidential chat.