Education and Strategies to Manage the Inner Critic

Many of us may have heard the term “inner critic”, this part of us involves negative self-talk along with critical and intrusive thoughts. These thoughts may stem from messaging we received about ourselves from a primary caregiver, from other relationships or from our environment. Examples of these thoughts may look like “I am not good enough” or “I am not worthy”, sending us into a spiral of doubt resulting in undermining our healing or ourselves.

This voice may sound particularly critical or harsh and may even involve words you would never communicate to another person. It may be very repetitive as the inner critic typically gets stuck in a loop of critical thoughts and replays it constantly. This pattern of thinking the inner critic uses are often referred to as “cognitive distortions”. There are ten common distorted thinking patterns that are normal to feel into, though as we get stuck in them it can impact our self-esteem, self-worth, or our overall wellbeing. Below are 5 of the 10 “cognitive distortions” along with ways to help navigate through them: 

These thoughts are often so automatic, we have a hard time being intentional about noticing them. My first suggested step is to be intentional about noticing these thoughts by “catching them”. You could also write them down on a “thought record” to keep track of the theme of these thoughts. Along this, write down ways to challenge or change them.

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: Things are either seen in shades of black or white, with no room for a “grey area” or middle ground. An example of this may look like “I have to be perfect or I will fail”. Tips to manage it: We often miss these “middle ground” situations when we are stuck in this loop, be intentional about looking for these. Additionally, swap the word “or” with “and”, such as “I had some failures this week that were hard to manage and I had some wins”
  2. Overgeneralization: This is very common; we overgeneralize or make a general assumption or conclusion based on limited evidence. The words “never” or “always” may be used in these particular distortions. Tips to manage it: Treat each event as a singular event. Remove the words “always” or “never” from a particular thought. 
  3. Catastrophizing: You expect the worst possible outcome. Tips to manage it: Once you catch this thought, intentionally shift the thought to “what could be the best case scenario?” or “what could go right?” Use visualization to picture that outcome.
  4. Should Statements: We often attach ourselves to rules, possibly rooted in our upbringing, in how a person should behave. Tips to Manage it: When you notice the thought involving the word “should”, ask yourself whose expectation this is. Does this actually align with the action you want to take based on who you want to be or who you authentically are? 

Double Standard: You hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold everyone else. Tips to manage it: Think of someone you care about, like a friend or sibling, and ask yourself what standard you would hold them to? How would you talk to them or treat them? This allows us to access self-compassion and navigate perfectionism.

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