How to Identify Your Critical Inner Voice
Millions of self-critical thoughts circle our minds everyday, leaving us miserable, discouraged and held back from going after what we want. Identifying these thoughts as mean-spirited, external points of view can free us from that destructive critical inner voice.
You don’t have to look far to find your critical inner voice. It’s there when you go to a job interview: “Why are you wasting your time? The other applicants are more qualified for this job.” It’s there when you express a point of view, “You idiot, why did you say that? Now everyone will think you are stupid.” It’s there when you make a mistake, “Can’t you do anything right? You are embarrassing yourself!”
The critical inner voice reveals itself in those little everyday thoughts that flit through our consciousness. They zing us and are gone before we are even fully aware of them. These thoughts are part of a menacing internal dialogue, a harsh and judgmental way that we talk to ourselves. Though sometimes hard to pinpoint, the inner voice is often experienced as a running commentary that attacks and criticizes our actions and interactions in everyday life. Unfortunately, this destructive thought process influences us to make decisions that are against our best interests and to take actions that negatively impact our lives. In order to challenge this internal enemy, you must be able to identify your critical inner voice. Once you have become aware of its negative guidance, you can make a conscious effort to not act on its destructive advice.
Watch a Whiteboard Video on The Critical Inner Voice
So how do you uncover this internal enemy, which is hidden among your more objective and realistic views and reactions? The trick is to separate it from the thoughts and feelings that represent your own point of view. One of the reasons that it is difficult to distinguish the attacks of the voice is because they are experienced in the first person; the same as all of your other thoughts. However, you can access this alien point of view by putting it in the second person. To do this, take your self-attacks from the first person (“I” statements) and put them into the second person (“you” statements).
The exercise below will enable you state the critical inner voice in the second person and thus reveal the hostile nature of this internal enemy. It will help you make a distinction between the negative point of view of yourself and a more realistic view. It will also make you aware of other negative thoughts that you may not have been conscious of before. With this simple exercise you will be able to access the feelings that often underlie these self-attacks, allowing you to have a more compassionate view of yourself.
Exercise Part 1: Identifying your critical inner voice:
Take a piece of paper and divide the page in half by drawing a line down the middle from top to bottom. On the left side of the page, record any negative thoughts that you have had toward yourself recently (ie: I am so lazy lately). Now on the right side of the page, translate these same statements into the second person (ie: You are so lazy lately)
Read over the negative statements on the right; it is helpful to read them out loud. Do you get the feeling that someone else is talking to you? Do you detect an unfriendly tone? One that is snide, sarcastic or hostile? Do these negative statements trigger more attacks? If so, write them down, but be sure to write them in the second person on the right side of the page. How do you feel hearing these attacks?
Exercise Part 2: Separating from your critical inner voice:
Take another piece of paper and place it along the right side of the first one. On this new page, next to each voice attack, try to express a realistic and impartial view of yourself, your qualities, and your reactions. What would a compassionate friend or an objective observer say or see about you in relation to the voice attack? Make sure to state this point of view in the first person (“I” statements). This is not meant to be an exercise where you buoy yourself up with self-affirming proclamations, but rather where you view yourself with an objective but kind attitude. You are seeing yourself through your own eyes, as you really are, not distorted by the filter of your critical inner voice.
It is advisable to take time regularly to investigate your critical inner voice attacks. Follow up with this exercise, by writing down your specific self-hating thoughts, always in the second person, and responding to them with a rational, more compassionate and realistic point of view, written in the first person.
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I love that you call it an “alien point of view.” (Partly because I just posted an article called “Living in Alien-Nation” http://www.downfromtheledge.com/2012/06/living-in-alien-nation.html)
I can recognize when the words coming out of my mouth don’t really sound like “me,” but when it’s in my own head, it’s not so easy to distinguish.
These self-hating thoughts are a big reason we feel alienated from ourselves, and therefore everyone else.
This didn’t help at all. How can you make a positive statement from “I’m dumb. I’m ugly. I’m boring.”? I want to feel beter but this only helped me feel even more like I don’t deserve to exist, and I cannot afford to mope around feeling like crap. I want to get better, but I don’t know how and I want a change but –
I just feel so lost.
Perhaps try to do the exercise more in depth by looking at where the self-deprecating thoughts come from. So when your inner voice says ‘I am dumb’ ask yourself who first told you that or where you deduced that statement from. When your inner voice says you are ugly ask yourself what standard makes you ugly and unattractive or where this came from. I’ve found identifying the root tbought patterns have helped me identify where the insecurity was born. I then use the inner child exercise to correct those core beliefs with the promises of God instead.
So I believe that God made my appearance – race, height, hair texture, eye colour, foot size, body shape – for a specific purpose. Perhaps these characteristics will open up another’s eyes in ways I won’t understand and empower those in vulnerable positions. I can’t be sure. I don’t believe anyone is dumb or stupid because we were all created in Gods image and his intellectual ability stems beyond what we can fathom.
I hope this helps!
Did you just copy and paste an author’s work from Psychology Today (without attribution)? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201301/how-identify-your-critical-inner-voice
Thank you for your concern. Please note Dr. Firestone authored both of these articles.
Hi, the exercise says write any negative thoughts in first person (I)and then translate then in 2nd person (You) but, as you write in the first part of the article, what if the CIV always or mostly talks in 2nd person already? My VIV rarely talks in 1st person….