We’ve all heard it — that not-so-quiet voice in our head that says, “You can’t,” “It’s impossible” or, “You’re not good enough.”
Most of us have minor battles with our inner critic during different points in our lives, but some people struggle with self-criticism on a daily basis. Unlike external naysayers in our lives however, an inner critic is held captive where we can train and rehabilitate it.
“There are many reasons that the self critic can be so debilitating,” says Noel E. Holdsworth, DHN, PMH ARNP-BC, CTS, a board-certified nurse practitioner of psychiatry of mental health for Winter Haven Hospital’s Center for Psychiatry, who holds a doctorate of natural health and is a certified trauma specialist.
Holdsworth says some of these reasons can be physical and medical, and some of them can be cognitive or behavioral, for example, what we think and what we do.
“One of the biggest reasons is how our brain was programmed as a child,” she says. “If there were more negative messages given to us as we were growing up, then it is probable that our behaviors and responses in adulthood will be negative as well.”
When a person is dealing with self-criticism Holdsworth points out that it’s not always easy to overcome.
“First of all a person needs to ‘want’ to overcome that self criticism,” she says. “It is much easier to remain negative than it is to become positive, because there is much responsibly with being positive. And in many situations, a person is driven by more of a fear of success than a fear of failure.”
However, it is always possible to become positive.
“Becoming a positive thinking person, happens one thought at a time,” she says. “It is like creating or carving a new path in the brain. The old path never goes away, but the more the new positive path is traveled, the easier it gets. And just like any journey, it always is easier when it is not taken alone. The power of positive support and positive validation from another person makes all the difference in the world. Building those positive relationships is a key part in overcoming past habits as a negative person.”
She also recommends using another person as a sounding board. Having someone to listen can help you gauge if this is something that is just a choice or a bad habit, or if there is something medically or physically going on as well that needs attention.
“In order to attract success or attract the right people one has to feel good,” Holdsworth elaborates. “It is very challenging to be successful at work, at home or in a job without a good self image or positive self esteem. The first step in developing this overall positive self concept is to believe that it is possible, and to believe it is not too late to try.”
She says this process can be challenging to complete alone and that many people find it easier in a group or in a partnership.
Sometimes, it can be necessary to seek the help of a professional.
“Seeing a professional is about learning the little tricks of changing one’s thoughts,” she says. “It is about having a cheerleader to keep from getting discouraged. And it is about differentiating whether this is related to a life choice or if medications and other interventions might be appropriate.”
Wherever our inner critic comes from, it is best not to engage it in a power struggle. Doing so only increases the noise and conflict in our heads, because it creates a controlling voice and a resistant voice. When these voices volley, minor issues or setbacks get blown out of proportion. Consider the inner dialog of a hypothetical dieter:
“Hey Fatty! Don’t eat that cookie!”
“I’ll show you! I’m eating this cookie — and another and another!”
“Way to go, loser. You have zero self-control. You’re pathetic.”
That sort of counterproductive back-and-forth is tiring and often immobilizing.
Instead, don’t dismiss the inner critic’s negative messages but ask a simple question: Is this true?
We should ask our inner critic, and ourselves, what other truths are possible.
Gently but firmly present opposing evidence when our inner critic naysays or calls us names.
The way to go about this is by asking questions that uncover the critic’s concerns and drive positive action. With our goals and self-respect in mind, we can ask ourselves and our inner critics:
• “What is your positive purpose?”
• “What lesson are you trying to teach me?”
• “What’s the best use of my time right now?”
• “What’s my highest priority?”
• “Is there someone I can talk to?”
• “What are some resources I could use?”
• “Which of these worries is within my control?”
story by DAWN KLINGENSMITH