How to manage your inner critic

By Belinda Haan

You have done something ‘wrong’, and you are annoyed with yourself.  

Perhaps you snapped at your child, took a short-cut, or were not your ideal self in some other way.  

How does your inner dialogue go from here? 

Why did I {insert your grievance}?  

I am never going to be {insert aspirational quality}! 

{Insert name of someone you respect} would never do that. 

I am always going to be {insert catastrophic ending}. 

There is something wrong with me. 

Does your inner critic have a megaphone in your mind?  Despite my theoretical and practical experience with distorted thinking, it amazes me how I can still let these irrational thoughts take over.  

For example, I was on holidays (oh remember those?!) with my family in Port Douglas. On day three, I noticed that I was cranky with the kids and more interested in time to myself than with them.  

I felt shame at how I was showing up for this much-anticipated holiday.  There was a distorted thinking party happening in my head, and it wasn’t bringing me any closer to my vision of a relaxing holiday full of family connection!    

When we are challenged emotionally, these reactions become an unholy trinity of self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption

Dr. Christopher Germer  

Use Self-Compassion as an Antidote 

We can easily access compassion for people who are suffering. Self-compassion is directing that same kindness and understanding inward. In many ways, self-compassion is innate; if we get cold, we put on a jacket. However, we don’t always naturally practise self-compassion when it comes to our emotions and thoughts. 

Dr. Kristen Neff outlines three elements that are important in cultivating self-compassion, and I add a fourth reflecting a values-aligned path forward.

  1. Self-kindness 
  2. Connection with the rest of humanity 
  3. Build mindfulness 
  4. Values-aligned action 

Cultivate self-kindness 

The easiest way to do this is to imagine a loved one is telling you what you are telling yourself. You would probably react with compassion, clarity, encouragement, and understanding. Say those same kind, reassuring things to yourself.  

I find it helpful to imagine hearing my daughter talking to herself the way I am when that inner critic takes over. This perspective spurs me towards self-kindness as my silent way of being a role model to her.  

In my example, I might say, “It has been a busy time, and you have an empty tank. When you get some time to rest, you will be able to be present with your family again”. 

Connection with the rest of humanity 

It can be easy (particularly based on social media) to assume that some people do not suffer at all, and that they live in perpetual bliss. In reality, we all suffer in different ways at different times in our lives.  

When we understand and accept the whole picture of life being a mixture of experiences, some more joyful than others, it allows more profound compassion towards others as we realise that we are each on our own path of ups and downs. 

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