“You suck!,” “You can’t do anything right,” “Your worthless!,” “You should just give up.”

So often these are the words of our inner critic after a mistake or perceived failure. When we talk to ourselves like this usually one of two things happen:

  1. We sink into a spiral of self deprecating thoughts
  2. We recognize that we “should not” talk to ourselves like this and do everything in our power to shut the inner critic voice down 

Unfortunately, the second approach makes us self-critical about being self-critical. We beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up. Too often the outcome is increased shame. 

Seems like a lose-lose, right? 

Here’s where understanding can come in handy. Our behavior is purposeful. Our inner critic is trying to protect us and keep us safe in some way, even if they way it goes about it is extremely unhelpful.

Here’s an example: 

You are trying to stop eating sugar but you find yourself halfway through a pint of ice cream. 

Your inner critic starts going off on you- “You suck, you can’t even do this simple thing, you’re worthless, etc.” Sound familiar? 

In this situation, our inner critic cares about our well-being and wants us to reach our goals, but it senses a threat. When our inner critic senses danger, it attacks. Think “fight” in the fight/flight/freeze stress response. The inner critic attacks because it doesn’t know a better way to ward off the perceived danger. 

Think about it this way: our self-criticism is actually a way of trying to get our needs met, it just happens to not be very productive-or pleasant. 

So what can we do?

  1. Show compassion to your inner critic. It’s not the enemy, it’s just trying to get your needs met in an unproductive way. When we address our inner critic with compassion we can actually move ourselves out of the “fight” response and into a sense of safety. 
  2. Identify the need that the inner critic is trying to meet. Getting curious and investigating what our current need is can really help. Thank your inner critic for pointing you toward awareness of your needs. 

Like everything worth doing, this takes practice. As you continue to engage in self-compassion toward your inner critic you may find yourself experiencing less internal conflict. Through kindness and compassion your inner critic will slowly learn that there are other, more helpful ways to get your needs met.

***The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

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