Like stress, putting ourselves down is just one of those commonly accepted psychological conditions we seem to tolerate without putting up too much of a fight. The “critical inner voice” describes the self-shaming thoughts we experience and the ways they attack us in various areas of our lives. The negative thoughts and feelings generated by our critical inner voice are formed from our early life experiences. However, they tend to stick with us throughout adulthood and grow even louder when we are going after important goals.
Our inner critic wreaks havoc on our self-esteem, discouraging us from becoming the people we want to be and living the lives we seek to lead. Identifying these inner voices is therefore, the first step in overcoming the negative impact they can have on our mood and behavior. Once we recognize these “voices,” we can consciously make the effort to think and act against them. So how can we become more aware of the commentary coming from our inner critic?
We can start by noticing the situations that trigger our low self-esteem. For some people, they experience this down feeling when they’re about to try something for the first time. Perhaps they feel excited about a new endeavor – anything from cooking a meal for their partner to going out for a job interview. The minute they take a step toward their goal, they start having thoughts about themselves like: “You’re going to fail at this. You have no clue what you’re doing. You’re in over your head. You’re going to make a fool out of yourself!”
As soon as you notice this type of self-doubt starting to seep in, try to recognize what you’re telling yourself in those moments. Write down these thoughts in the second-person (as “you” statements), as though someone else were speaking to you. When you do this, you can start to make a separation between these thoughts and your own real point of view. You can regard them as the words of an external enemy, as opposed to reality.
Remember, this voice can be tricky. It will make almost rational-seeming arguments about why you shouldn’t go after the things you want. It will even offer self-soothing words to try to lure you from the actions that will ultimately bring you happiness. For example, if a longstanding dream of yours was to be in a band, this voice may first call you a “foolish dreamer” and tell you to “get real.” If you decide to go for it anyway, the voice may change its tune. Instead of sounding critical, it will fill your head with thoughts like, “Don’t practice tonight. You’ve had a long day. Just kick back and relax. Your guitar will still be there tomorrow.” You may give in to this temptation. Then, the minute you slip even a little, the voice will be there to punish you. “Another night without practicing? You’re terrible at this. You’ll never be able to get up in front of a crowd? Who’d want to hear you play anyway?”
As we get to know the patterns of our inner critic and familiarize ourselves with the areas it attacks us in – we can start to catch on earlier and earlier to when it’s hurting our self-esteem. The constant barrage of a cruel internal commentary can distract us from being ourselves. It can keep us quiet, when we would naturally be an outspoken person with strong opinions. It can make us passive, letting co-workers take the lead, when we are actually more qualified to get the job done. It can influence our lives on a variety of levels – from the relationships we form to the career paths we choose.
It’s crucial to our destiny that we learn to identify and challenge our critical inner voice. If we remain committed in our mission to counter these negative self-attacks, systematically as each thought enters our mind, we drastically improve our self-esteem and live with a healthier, more realistic self-image. Take this quiz to find out if you have low self-esteem then read about the critical inner voice and start your journey toward a life free of imagined limitations.