Let’s talk about hearing (and listening to) voices.
The voices inside our heads tell us we aren’t good enough, don’t deserve success, love or acceptance, and don’t have what it takes. I think you get my point.
Most of us have an inner critic, and that’s an o.k. thing to have. However, some of us have an inner critic that’s unfair, brutal, and somewhat irrational.
Listening to that critic can encourage depression, helplessness, listlessness, and self-sabotaging behaviours.
Where does such a mean inner voice come from? Typically, it develops from a combination of negative messages we receive.
The “inner critic” is a psychological concept that refers to the internal voice that judges and criticises you. This voice is a product of your past experiences, expectations of you, and internalized messages from family or society. This internal criticism can be harsh and a significant barrier to self-acceptance and personal growth.
- Origins: The inner critic often develops in early life. It might stem from parental voices and teachers. Over time, these external voices become internalized.
- Effects: A strong inner critic can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, and even imposter syndrome (a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”).
- Purpose: While it often seems negative, the inner critic initially emerges as a protective mechanism. It aims to prevent failure, rejection, or hurt by pointing out potential flaws or weaknesses. However, being too dominant can stifle growth and foster negative self-perception.
A great deal of negativity stays with us when we receive negative messages about ourselves from sources we love or admire, and these negative messages tend to have an even more significant impact if we receive them when we’re still very young.
The real key here is to understand that most negative inner critics are born when we receive cruel commentary about who we are instead of what we do.
Open that up a bit with an example. A coach saying to a young gymnast,
“You’re still shaky on your turns. You need to work on the balance beam more in practice, at least 15 minutes extra every session” is not the same thing as saying,
“You’re clumsy on the beam, and you’ll cost us in the competition!”
The first instance specifies a specific problem and emphasizes a particular solution. It’s about a correctable weakness in performance (shaky turns) instead of the second example’s personal, attacking tone, which directly assaults the pupil’s self, not technique.
Not only is it cruel, but it’s also an inefficient way to communicate. No solution is offered so that no improvement can take place. Plus, we get a voice added to the internal critic, saying, “You’re clumsy”, which will be internalized to “I’m a clumsy person.”
That negative, critical voice will endure long after gymnastics is over.
When we’re young, the messages we receive about ourselves become massive building blocks in our self-concept and self-esteem.
We carry these messages into adulthood, and we may find that our inner voice has become an inner critic.
Understanding and managing the inner critic is a lifelong process. Over time, with consistent effort and the right strategies, it’s possible to lessen its grip and foster a more compassionate and realistic self-view.
- Working with the Inner Critic: Recognizing the presence of an inner critic is a critical step in personal development. Many therapeutic and self-help modalities provide techniques to engage with and challenge the inner critic:
- Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can help one become aware of the critic’s voice without getting entangled in its narrative.
- Self-compassion: Practicing self-compassion means treating oneself with the same kindness and understanding as one would treat a good friend.
- Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic approaches can be instrumental in challenging and transforming the narratives of the inner critic.
Pay attention to how you talk to yourself inside your head. You want to be your best friend, not your worst enemy.