Are you an expert at giving yourself a hard time? Or maybe you find yourself thinking critical thoughts of others? Do you ever wish you could just feel free of thoughts like, “I should have done this,” or “Why doesn’t he just do that,” or “It’s their fault! If they were different I would be fine!” or “I blew it, again!” We all have a litany of critical thoughts about of ourselves and others that seem to arise whenever our expectations are not met. Unfortunately, these thoughts can lead to significant dissatisfaction and unhappiness in many areas.
Our inner critic lives in the land of “should” and convinces us that our lives, our relationships, our friends, our jobs and ourselves are falling short of what is “supposed” to be and that we should be more and have more. Anyone can be critical at times, but for some, their inner critic is relentless to a point of exhaustion. So where do these critical thought come from? How can we free ourselves of our inner critic and live happier, more joyful lives?
Many of us were raised to critically analyze all that we do and all that we encounter. Our inner critic mimics the criticism we encountered as children from those closest to us–from whom we sought approval. Unfortunately, we can unwittingly carry the critical judgement we encountered from our parents, caregivers, siblings any friends into adulthood. In most cases, it becomes such an ingrained habit that we are not even aware of how often we are critical or judgmental. We think it’s “normal” to have critical opinions, but when they undermine our quality of life and the health and happiness of our relationships it’s time to take action.
Here are five easy ways you can take control of your inner critic and free yourself to enjoy a better life:
1. Audit your thoughts. Pay attention to what your inner critic is saying on a regular basis. Keep a journal of your thoughts, worries and concerns. Do you see a trend? Are you in the process of convincing yourself of something to justify an outcome? Are there real concerns that require action rather than criticism?
2. Stop your inner critic in its tracks. When you notice a critical thought, stop yourself immediately and re-evaluate. Ask yourself, “Do I really believe what my inner critic is saying? Are these critical thoughts a valid reflection of my true feelings and values? If I were to apply the same judgments to myself would they seem fair?”
3. Fact-check your thoughts. Often we think critical thoughts when we are upset with ourselves or another. We vent our anger and disappointment through our judgements. Rather than accept our own negative spin, take a moment to fact-check your critical evaluation. Is it really true you (or another) purposely did not do enough with intent to disappoint? Or could it be that you (or they) were tired, stressed or unaware of your expectations? Or maybe you (they) gave your (their) best, but the outcome was simply different from anticipated. Are your thoughts and judgments true or just a reaction to your pain? Do your thoughts sound like the criticism you received from a parent? Many times we mimic critical thoughts from the past with out awareness of what we are doing or why. Ask yourself what you know about the person or events versus what you fear to be true. Avoid mind reading. Instead, focus on actual events that have taken place.
4. Talk back to your inner critic. Psychologist Robert Firestone, Ph.D., et al, pioneered the area of the inner critic “voice”, its origins and how it negatively impacts our self-image and our relationships (recommended reading: Conquer Your Inner Critical Voice by Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D., Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Joyce Catlett, M.A.; and Voice Therapy by Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D. ). In his work “Voice Therapy”, Dr. Firestone found that taking back to your inner critic not only provided relief from the pain caused by our habitual negative and judgmental thoughts, but also improved self-esteem and the relationship between the critical person and their partner.
5. Get in touch with your feelings. When we think critical thoughts, it often is triggered by fears and insecurities that have little to do with actual events taking place. When we feel insecure we often jump to our fears of a negative outcome. When we do this we listen to our inner critic and begin to seek “proof” that our fears may be founded instead of trusting in ourselves to have the ability to handle any outcome. Try digging deeper to understand your feelings when your inner critic takes over. Use your rational thought and facts to override your fears. Examine what you know and take solace in the fact that feelings are not facts and fears are not events that have taken place, they are only fears. When you begin to master your feelings you will have greater control over your fears as well as your inner critic, and you will begin to free yourself from being a slave to such criticisms.
We are drawn to people who are open and accepting even though we are not perfect. We all make mistakes. We all appreciate forgiveness and kindness. We are all doing our best to get through life. When you become less critical of yourself and judgmental of others, you make better decisions based upon facts. You also free yourself up from a great deal of negativity and have a lot more room in your life for peace and joy. It might sound a bit “Pollyanna”, but it is actually quite effective.
Do you struggle with your inner critic? Have you found other simple solutions for success? Join in the conversation! We love your comments.