What Does Your Inner Critic Actually Say?

When the voice in your head that tells you that “you can’t”, “won’t be able to”, “it won’t work” and “you should have known better” pipes up, what does it actually say?

I worked with a client (we’ll call him Peter) who found himself shouting at the top of his voice whilst driving to work some mornings. It wasn’t road rage, it was an angry rant at himself about how useless he was at all the things he had to do. He’d never told anybody before and assumed he was the only one. He thought that he must be ‘mad’ and felt ashamed that he was out of control. Peter found it incredibly difficult to tell me about the shouting, he’s a kind and measured person who almost never raises his voice. This behaviour appeared to be totally at odds with the rest of his life.

Once the secret was out we began to try to understand what was happening and why the nature of it was so disturbing for him. The first step in doing this was to work out what was actually being said. For Peter it was a barrage of abuse about how useless he was in all aspects of his life – at work, at home and in his relationships. It left him feeling drained, sad and hopeless. It sapped his strength and left him convinced that it would be better not to try rather than try his best when he was destined to fail.

Working with the inner critic can often be a vital starting point in revealing what’s wrong. The nature and detail of what it is saying shows us the underlying themes which shape our behaviour, but can often go unnoticed. The voice is so normal for us that we assume it is an unchangeable part of us, must be the same for everybody or that we are too different (and wrong) to be worthy of challenging it.

To begin the challenge we can take 3 steps:

1 – Admit it is happening.

2 – Notice when it happens.

3 – Write down what it says.

Armed with this, we can start to unpick the meaning and the false assumptions which will allow us to tackle the inner critic and develop a more accurate and fair view of ourselves. By doing this we enable our adult self to evaluate who we really are, not who we have feared we may be as we grew up.