Here’s the thing: we all talk to an inner voice—sometimes longer than we talk to other people. This inner voice learns its language from one’s past, especially from the traumatic, hurtful, and distressing parts.
As a result, this inner voice usually becomes a person’s own villain, discourager, or critic.
Some may argue that a positive outlook is enough to disarm the inner critic. If you’re a believer of this, I highly advise that you stop reading and just revel in your protons.
But if you’re someone like me who has tried and still tries positivity yet continues to battle with this tenacious critic every now and then, I encourage you to read through the end.
Battle of Voices
Your mind has the ability to speak and argue with itself. And if your mind was able to form a critical voice, it is able also to build a voice that empowers and pronounces the good in you.
But know this: these voices are just parts of you. They aren’t you.
Yes, it’s overwhelming sometimes. But if you’re overwhelmed, then pause, sleep, watch a movie, or listen to a song that calms you down.
I hear you. It is not always as simple as that. The point is to not let the inner critic take control.
The Good of the Inner Critic
Oops. So, there’s good in this Inner Critic?
Yes, actually there is, but deducing that good takes work and a decision to deliberately turn the destructive criticisms into constructive observations.
You see, your inner critic doesn’t live in the present—it is trapped in the failures of the past and warped illusions of the future. This means that it is your job to free this voice, pull it—pull hard if needed—into the present, and mold it so that it is cynic enough to protect you from crazy but permissive enough to allow calculated risks (or sometimes even crazy ones).
Here are some pieces of advice to help you shape—or reshape—your inner voice:
Recognize the pattern
When you pay enough attention, you will realize that there are certain situations that trigger the critic.
Most of the time, it comes to intrude just when you’re about to make a crucial decision like leaving a job, applying for another job, or pursuing anything that you’re strongly passionate about.
Also, the messages it delivers are often the same: “You aren’t good enough.” “So many other people are better than you.” “You’re too ambitious.” Blah blah blah.
When you identify the situations that invite negativity in, you become more empowered to face it and deface it. Again, your inner critic is a child, and it sometimes behaves like a brat who needs serious disciplining—and disciplining is a loving thing! Catch the voice when it’s misbehaving, and correct it lovingly.
Change your script
A lot of the inner critic’s messages root from perfectionism. To revise the critic’s messages, you have to first accept that perfection is not only unattainable but also unimportant. Answer back to your inner critic. Tell it lines like “So what?” “We have just one life.” “Perfect is not the point.”
Notice my use of “we” right there? You see, the goal is not to get rid of your critic but to tame it enough so it stops harming you and starts serving you. Don’t try to get rid of her. Take her along with you, learn from her, and teach her.
Accept that okay is okay
You don’t have to be the best all the time. You don’t always need to appear marvelous or smart or a “big deal.”
Sometimes what you’re doing will seem mediocre even to yourself. And that’s okay.
Just imagine living a grand life every day—that’s tiresome, and it gets boring eventually.
Certainly, there are situations where you must aim for “great” and other adjectives higher than “okay.” By all means, pursue that.
But you won’t get to touch “great” and “marvelous” if you keep chasing it in everything. Focus on things that are most important to you.
Say “No” or “Okay, that’s good enough” to those which aren’t. This way, you are saying “Yes” to those that are most important. You are saying “Yes, welcome in” to the great and marvelous.
Pick up your lesson then get going
You will fall short. Again and again. Most of the time, you will fall short of your own expectations of yourself. Your critic has to learn that this is a reality for everyone (even though it doesn’t seem to be so for some people).
When your critic leads you to “I told you so” or other similar discouragements, deliberately point it to the lesson you can learn. Maybe there’s a skill you need to work on? A detail you missed, perhaps? Or maybe it isn’t so important after all and you could just move on?
Give yourself the credit due you for trying. Forgive yourself for things you could have done better, knowing that you’re imperfect as everybody else is.
Get the lesson then move forward. This won’t be easy at the beginning, but if you keep on doing it with every disappointing situation you face, your critic will eventually master the drill.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was first published on PsychCentral.