More Helpful Ideas for Quieting that Negative Inner Critic

Negativity: Inner Critic

Negativity: Inner Critic

I’ve discussed this in more detail in “Controlling Your Inner Critic.” But Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D, has posted some more useful ideas at Psychology Today blogs: “How to Put Down that Self-Critic:”

Do you find that there is a critical voice in your head that follows you around all day and all night? It may pop up as you get out of bed (“Late again!”) or when you look in the mirror (“You look exhausted”). Or you notice it when you get to work (“You never get things done on time”). And when you meet people you hear that voice nagging at you saying, “What a bore you are.” If this sounds familiar then you might take some momentary comfort in knowing that you are not alone— and I don’t mean you are not alone because your critic follows you. I mean that almost all of us have that voice at times. The question is—what are you going to do about it?…

This may sound odd to say that the self-critical voice shouldn’t be taken seriously. But just because you are thinking something doesn’t mean that it is important, relevant, or something to spend time with. I like to think of these negative thoughts as the telemarketing call that you don’t take. Or, the caller ID that tells you it’s someone you don’t want to talk to. Or you can think of the self-critical thought as one of the trains at Grand Central Station that’s not going in your direction. Simply having a negative thought does not mean it is at all relevant to your valued goals. If you focus on your goals—and carry out challenging and sometimes difficult behavior to accomplish those goals—you can allow the self-critical voice to yack away in the background while you continue to move forward. Think about self-criticism as eaves-dropping on someone else’s conversation.

An alternative to the self-critical voice is the self-correction voice. Imagine the following: You are learning how to play tennis and you hit the ball into the net. The trainer comes out and tells you to whack yourself in the head ten times. Is that a good idea? In contrast, imagine a different trainer who shows you exactly how to hit the ball over the net. Which is the better approach? You can correct yourself without criticizing yourself. You can say, “OK, that behavior didn’t work this time, so let me try a different approach”. Replace your self-criticism with self-correction. Then you can use your mistakes as an opportunity to improve.

Self-criticism is often very general and very vague. Seldom does the person actually say, “Well, I need to hold the racquet this way rather than that way.” Rather, it is in very general terms, “I’m a lousy player” or, “I’m an idiot”. Check out your self-critical voice and ask yourself if you are making gross generalizations about yourself. Try to replace these statements with specific behaviors that you can change. After all, it’s a lot easier to change the way you hold the racquet than to stop being an idiot. (Here’s the test: How would you know when you had stopped being an idiot? How would you know if you are now holding the racquet correctly?)

Finally, be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend. I have found that the nicest people I know are often incredibly self-critical–even cruel toward themselves. This is a double standard that only makes you feel worse. Try this: write out your self-critical statements for a day and then imagine saying all these things to your best friend. Why would you think it would be cruel and unfair to do that? In contrast, try saying supportive things to yourself that you would say to a friend. You will get a lot further rewarding and supporting yourself than by treating yourself in a way you wouldn’t treat a friend—or a stranger.

You won’t build a successful life on criticizing yourself. You will build it on getting things done.

All very useful advice. For those of us who suffer an inner critic modelled on a perfectionist parent, this nagging is worse than useless–it is demotivating. You can be a successful perfectionist by concentrating on the task, not yourself–“Next time I will do it differently and it will turn out better,” not “I am so stupid. I can’t do anything right!” If you want to accomplish things, you can’t get bogged down in recriminations — you get right back up and try it again with a correction. And again and again until the result is good enough. The perfectionist has to learn that 80% of what she thinks is perfect is generally a lot better than what others would think good enough, and learn to use her time wisely to move on to the next problem when the returns to further fine-tuning are small. By accomplishing much more than those who get bogged down in that last refinement, she tunes herself to be the very best; by seeing flaws no one else sees, she guarantees she will always be improving. By believing in herself and her methods, she is immune to the dispiriting inner critic.

Further reading:

“Controlling Your Inner Critic.”

More on Attachment and Personality Types:

What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Secure
Type: Anxious-Preoccupied
Type: Dismissive-Avoidant
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
nxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Malignant Narcissists
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
Sale! Sale! Sale! – “Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management

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