Quieting the Inner Critic

Child Adolescent - with Heather Caruso at Art Therapy Guelph in Ontario.

An inner critic is a voice that gives criticism rather than encouragement. Everyone except sociopaths has an inner critic. They can be a force to motivate us or stop us from trying, lower our self-esteem and steal our joy. Signs of a strong inner critic are:

  • Nothing you do is good enough.
  • Not wanting to do anything because you think you will fail.
  • Having unrealistic expectations for your achievements.
  • Comparing yourself to others.
  • Not forgiving yourself for learning and making mistakes
  • Negative self talk.

Gilbert and Irons (2004) state that having positive regard and compassion for yourself is nurturing and aids in positive growth and achievement. When the volume of your inner critic is stuck on loud, it can stop you from moving forward or propel you in a negative way. When the inner critic drives you, no achievement is good enough.

The critic has valuable messages about safety and when to be cautious but in some cases, it can insult who we are. Its negative narrative gets left on high volume. People who are depressed stop filtering their inner critic’s messages. They listen and absorb messages that are derogatory, demotivating, and unhelpful. Depressed people take the negative mind chatter to heart.

Parnell (2020) suggests we get to know more about the inner critic. Experts say you need to lean into it with openness and curiosity. Where did this voice come from? How is it trying to help me? Does it have fears? Can I work with my inner critic? Can I move forward in a positive way, be determined, grow, and achieve in a more positive way? Can I turn down the volume on my inner critic?

One art exercise may be to imagine your inner critic as a person. Using any materials, colours, or images, depict what you think your inner critic may look like and what would it say or think. Picture yourself holding a conversation with this critic. In doing so, you may learn more about the inner critic within you and how you can work together in a more positive way.

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Gilbert and Irons (2004). A pilot exploration of the use of compassionate images in a group of self-critical people. Memory, 12 (4), 507-516.

How to work with clients who struggle with the inner critic. Address by Parnell (2021). The national institute for the clinical application of behavioural medicine.