What is the inner critic? It is the voice in your head that tells you that you are too fat, too short, not smart enough, not good enough or not capable enough to achieve what you want to. If you are struggling to identify the inner critic, listen out for the voice that is the most negative and rude and you will have found it.

That inner voice is one that fills you with trepidation and self-doubt. It is the voice that holds you back from taking chances, from putting yourself out there, from being your true self. Some of us hear that voice loud and clear, from the moment we wake in the morning until we turn the light off in bed each night; for others, it is a little more subtle.

How loud we allow that voice to get and take control is up to us. Elizabeth Gilbert cunningly likened this voice to a passenger or the driver of a car. Do you choose to allow this inner critic to drive your life? Or do you send it to the back seat to enjoy the ride? Learning how to quieten that inner critic, and not let it negatively affect you is you taking back the driving seat of your life.

Why is the inner critic so negative?

Life is a game of survival, not of happiness. At least, that is how your inner critic thinks. It shouts you down or belittles you because it doesn’t want to be threatened, and you taking risks threatens its safety. It wants you to stay wrapped up in cotton-wool, out of harm’s way. It has little interest in your happiness, only survival: This is because the inner critic focuses on safety, which is one of three fundamental human psychological needs: Love, safety and belonging.

Taking this objective viewpoint can help you to not only understand where that inner critic is coming from but realise that what it has to say should not be seen as the truth. It is telling you small lies to protect you, only you don’t know that.

One way to look at it is that if a friend or loved one of yours was in danger and someone came looking for them, you would not hesitate to tell a small lie to ensure their safety. The same thing happens when your inner critic tells you that you are not smart enough to apply for the new job; it wants to prevent change or stress, as that would threaten your safety.

So you see, that inner voice has your best interests at heart, which is why just trying to block it out does not work. It will just try to shout louder. It would help if you learned to understand where the fear and self-doubt is coming from, in order to calm down your inner critic and take back control.

Where does the inner critic come from?

The negative things you tell yourself come from somewhere, and usually that somewhere is in your childhood. You have heard the saying that children are like sponges? They absorb everything that is in their environment, which is why it is so crucial to teach young children new skills and instil positive beliefs about the world around them and themselves.

What people don’t often tell you is that children don’t only absorb the good from their environment. They also absorb the bad. As a very young child (2-5), you did not know your place in the world, or what you believed to be the truth. You relied on your parents to teach you what your worth was and what to believe about the world.

If you were repeatedly criticised or judged as a child (repetition is key here), then you will likely have formed a belief that you are not good enough. Often, that negative voice in our heads is not our own voice. It is the voice of the person that had the most impact on our belief system at an early age. Take a few minutes out of your day to try this exercise. Sit quietly and allow that inner voice to speak. Who does it sound like? What are they saying? Can you recall hearing those exact words as a child? Can you pinpoint where you were?

Suppose your father criticised successful businesswomen, saying their place was in the home and not in the office, you may unconsciously believe that to be true and therefore avoid furthering a career in business.

Or suppose your mother made frequent comments about how a woman with subtle make-up, perfect hair, manicured nails and a slim body had everything considered to be well-groomed and attractive. You would likely create a belief that if you did not have monthly nail and hair appointments, or a slim body that you were not beautiful and therefore unworthy.

Unfortunately, many parents don’t realise the damage that they are doing. They have their best interests at heart, and they are trying their utmost for their children, but there is no manual for “how to raise a child”, so your parents did the best they could. They perhaps didn’t understand that what they saw as a casual, off the cuff comment about female sports presenters at a rugby game, or a male nurse or child-minder started to create a belief in their child’s mind. A belief that women and men have gender-specific jobs and roles in this life and that interfering with that would not be right.

It is undeniable that we all carry emotional baggage, and that at some point in our lives, we suffered emotional trauma’s that have had an impact on the way we lead our lives. These comments, repeated over time and which create negative associations and beliefs in our minds are considered traumas. The good news is that you can learn how to not only understand your inner critic but soften its tongue and quieten its voice.

You can also learn how to strip back the layers you have built up around your beliefs and change them to better serve you. Read my next post to learn how to do this.