“Work harder or you’ll never amount to anything?” – “You’re a bad friend, and no one really likes you anyway.” – “You are embarrassing.” – “You are stupid.” – “YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”
We all have a nagging inner critic of self-doubt sitting on our shoulder and whispering nasty comments into our ear. This voice can be very strong and very convincing. Despite its harshness, we often believe that this voice has good intentions: that is drives our success and makes us a better person. Or worse, we resign to the idea that this voice is right and begin a downward spiral of insecurity to self-loathing. We may experience anxiety when the voice starts talking, or we may not even notice when it holds the reins while we rush around on auto-pilot.
We develop different coping strategies to combat this inner critic. We may avoid opportunities that would be good for us for fear of failure; we may continuously drive ourselves forward in our career yet never allow ourselves to enjoy our success; we may become boastful, self-aggrandizing, short-tempered, and arrogant to ensure nobody can see our deepest insecurities; or we may engage in relationships with individuals who echo our nasty inner critic and makes us feel worse about ourselves. Unfortunately, these strategies often perpetuate the problem, and get us to repeat behavioural patterns that keep us from achieving wellbeing. The inner critic does not enable wellbeing, it keeps us away from happiness.
To create positive change, we must first identify what our inner critic is saying. Who have we internalized this voice from – where have we heard it before? Do we agree with this voice? What are the benefits of having our inner critic? What does our inner critic stop us from? And the key question: What do we need from this inner critic in order to achieve our goals?
Therapy can help to identify the inner critic and answer these questions. More importantly, we can see a positive shift happening when we use experiential tools to immerse ourselves in the different parts of our psyche and find out what we truly need for our wellbeing.
You can begin yourself by starting to identify the voice of your inner critic and become aware of when they try to hijack you and drive your behaviour. Awareness is always the first step to change.