What To Do When The Inner Critic Just Won’t Shut Up
I recently wrote a piece titled “‘You Are Good Enough’ and 17 Other Reframes to Quiet the Inner Critic.” The piece draws from concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a treatment that is shown to be highly effective in reducing depression and anxiety by challenging negative self-talk. In my work as a therapist, I explain to clients that talking back to the inner critic and changing negative narratives about ourselves takes time and practice, but that it can be done. Recognizing that this skill does take time, and that sometimes the inner critic just won’t shut up, today I offer another strategy:
Accept your inner critic completely.
Easier said than done, right? You are probably wondering, “But, how?!” A lot of people feel frustrated when they try to quiet the inner critic with positive reframes, and find that the negative personal insults, low self-esteem, and hopelessness just keeps coming. When you need a break from arguing with your inner critic, try practicing these strategies to help you simply accept your inner critic instead.
Recognize that the inner critic does actually have some positive functions. The inner critic keeps you on your toes and helps you identify areas of growth. For individuals who have experienced trauma, the inner critic has often played an important role in keeping you safe. You may have learned that if you can anticipate your own faults before anyone else does, that this can help you fly under the radar and avoid negative attention. When your inner critic comes out in full effect, appreciate the fact that you are doing the best that you can and are always looking for ways to improve.
Observe negative thoughts without participating in them. There is certainly a difference between helpful and harmful thoughts. Notice the impulse to make negative comments about yourself, and know that you can observe these thoughts, without making them any louder. I encourage my clients to observe negative thoughts the same way they would watch a cloud passing in the sky. Watch these thoughts come… and go… without feeling any pressure to push them away any faster or hold on tightly to them. Say to yourself, “Oh, OK, there goes my inner critic again” and let these thoughts pass you by. Remember, YOU are not YOUR THOUGHTS.
Give yourself distance from critical thoughts by giving them their own identity. Sometimes it can be helpful to personify the inner critic by giving them a name, a personality, and even visualize what this cranky person would look like. By distancing yourself from negative thoughts, you are giving yourself permission to say “Oh, that’s not me, that’s just my depression.” Or, “that is just stress talking.” Or, “OK, I’m feeling anxious again.” The Hilarious World of Depression, an amazing podcast about the surprisingly funny parts of depression, talks to a listener in this episode about using this exact technique. She talks about how calling her inner critic “Steve” gives her more power to pay attention to these thoughts, or just flat out disregard them. What would your inner critic’s name and personality be?
Imagine that your inner critic is along for the ride of life, but NOT driving the car. In practicing acceptance you know that your inner critic will come out in times of stress, and that you don’t have to allow these negative thoughts to rule your life. You don’t have to give up on opportunities because you don’t feel deserving. You don’t have to give up on life just because you feel weak. And, you don’t have to feel like a failure because you haven’t tamed your inner critic just yet. Accept the inner critic, but live your life anyway.
When faced with any problem, we always have a choice between change and acceptance. When dealing with the inner critic, you can practice both strategies. Trying experimenting with change and acceptance-based strategies to find out what works best for you, and in what situations. Figure out what works for you, and know that you are not alone in dealing with critical thoughts.
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Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW is a Bay Area burnout prevention psychotherapist and founder of Therapy for Real Life. Her personal mission is to break beyond the traditional therapy hour to offer expanded access to therapy concepts — adapted for everyday use. Anna specializes in evidence-based therapies for changemakers in her Bay Area counseling practice, in addition to burnout prevention consulting with workplaces far and wide. Anna created the fun and interactive Burnout Prevention Hack-A-Thon, which she facilitates in workplaces across sectors to buffer employees against everyday stresses. Anna makes self-care even more accessible through the Therapy for Real Life podcast. Anna explains burnout prevention strategies drawn from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) — a counseling style that combines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other change-based skills with mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies to help you lead a more balanced life. Get to know Anna’s therapy and consulting work through her website and contributions to Teen Vogue, The Mighty, and Medium. You can also find her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.