Challenging Your Inner Critic

by Alison Finch

So who exactly is this Inner Critic? I’ve often made reference in my articles to the “chatterbox” inside your head that sometimes does her best to undermine your self-confidence and diminish your self-esteem. At times I’ve suggested that it’s a good idea to ignore that chatterbox when it’s clear that she doesn’t have your best interests at heart or when she’s clearly being prejudiced against you and is not looking at the facts of your particular situation.

Today, I’m going to cut your chatterbox some slack. And I’m going to show some good faith by referring to her rather more respectfully as your “inner critic” for the remainder of this article.

Establishing a good relationship with your inner critic can bring tremendous benefit, and we’re going to explore how to do that in a way that will help you to make better decisions and create some peace and harmony inside your own mind.

One of my pet hates is the notion that “everybody’s opinions deserve equal respect”. I’m not going to get off on a rant about this, I’m simply going to say that I’d much rather listen to an informed opinion than an uninformed opinion on ANY subject.

If you hear an opinion from somebody on a subject about which he or she is entirely ignorant, I suggest you seriously consider dismissing it because it will be worth less than an informed view.

But ignorance is not the only thing that can disqualify the usefulness of an opinion. Inappropriate motivation is another. If you speak with someone who knows something, but who chooses to use that knowledge to manipulate you into making bad decisions, then you would be well-advised to be alert and on your guard. And you should give yourself permission to discount that informed opinion on the basis that it has no integrity.

Which brings me back to your inner critic again. We know, since she is with you every waking moment of every day, that she is not entirely ignorant about you, is she? But what of her motivation: is she working “with” you, or “against” you? Does she help you to make sound decisions, or does she undermine you and diminish your confidence?

Do not attempt to silence
your inner critic

Let’s dispel that common notion that the best way to deal with an inner critic who has become overly harsh is to silence her altogether. Even if she has turned into that “chatterbox” we’ve spoken about, silencing her completely could only be achieved if you were prepared to suspend all internal judgment of yourself and your behavior.

This is not a good idea, for a number of reasons:

Unless you’re a psychopath, you couldn’t do it anyway. Normal people judge things all the time whether they admit it or not. It’s part of your survival mechanism and it’s hard-wired into your brain. (Oh, and I should point out that you’re not a psychopath, or you would have stopped reading this article long ago!)

It’s dangerous to stop listening altogether to somebody who has the potential to offer an informed view, because it’s likely that not all of what they have to say will be worthless to you.

It can be immoral to stop listening to your inner critic, because sometimes she is pretty well tapped in to your conscience, and ignoring what your conscience is telling you is a big step along a dangerous road.

Just imagine what life could be like if you learned to work with your inner critic as a team, knowing that you are on the same side, with the same objectives, and with a strong degree of trust between you: wouldn’t that be something?

Criticism can be a good thing

I’ve had to listen to my own inner critic recently, and she had a couple of stern things to say to me when I reversed my car into a lamppost after picking up my kids from school. Candidly, she pointed out that it is a good idea to pay attention to the existence of large, immovable objects in my vicinity instead of whatever else it was that may be competing for my attention at the time. My inner critic has contributed to my considerable sense of embarrassment about my incompetence and that’s OK, because I think it’s good for me to feel embarrassed for what I did. My lingering discomfort will help me to be more cautious from now on when driving away from school, as indeed will the 300 repair bill!

While I’m in a confessional mood, I’ll share another – rather more serious – case of bad judgment. In my early twenties I left all of my friends in a nightclub to go off with a total stranger in the middle of London because I thought he was rather good-looking and I was feeling adventurous. My friends were furious at the time, but respected my right to make my own decisions. My inner critic was definitely on their side, and repeatedly told me that I was being stupid (on my own account) and selfish (by causing them so much worry and concern). The fact that I am here today to recount this story after eventually arriving home safely has everything to do with good luck and nothing to do with good judgment on my part. Afterward I felt ridiculous for being so frivolous, guilty for the anguish I caused my friends, and immature and foolish for refusing to listen to my inner critic when she had been clearly trying to act in my best interests as I was making my decisions.

Telling that story made me shudder. But I hope it helps to illustrate my point that your inner critic is extremely valuable – provided that she is on your side.

Is your inner critic
working with you?

To find out, spend ten minutes or so today writing down all the self-criticisms that you can recall saying to yourself in the few days. Then review those self-criticisms to see if they have any legitimacy. Are they fair? Were they useful? Did they make you feel motivated to change for the better? Or were they just negative, cruel and demotivating?

Your inner critic needs to be one of your best friends and to have your best interests at heart. If she is over zealous, never shuts up, and chips away at your soul, then you need to either:

a) Put her through some serious, firm training

Make her step up to the mark and do her job properly. To re-train your inner critic, catch her making put-down remarks, broad sweeping statements or a chain of negative or inaccurate comments and then challenge her to be more focused, accurate, positive, encouraging and helpful.

For example: if your inner critic says: “Oh, you’ll never fall in love. You’re just so fussy and not attractive enough”, challenge her with questions such as:

Can you really not think of any couples who are clearly in love but who are not both drop-dead gorgeous?

Is it fair to say I’m not attractive enough? Enough for what, exactly?

OK, I know that finding someone to fall in love with is never easy for anyone. Can you think of some things I could be doing better to increase my chances of success?

Is it so wrong to be fussy? After all, it’s important to find someone who isn’t just going to fade away after a while.

By challenging your inner critic on a daily basis, you’ll be able to re-train her to provide you with constructive inputs and criticisms in place of self-sabotaging ones.

b) Swap her for a better one!

Think of your inner critic as having a personality of her own. If that personality is rude, obnoxious, unfriendly, cruel, insensitive, prejudiced against you, subjective in her assessments, out of control, unbearable, a nuisance, aggressive, destructive, then it’s time to eject her from your mind and replace her with a personality more worthy of sharing your life! For example, I’ve known women who have lived for years with an inner critic who says horrible things like: “You’re just a big, fat, ugly lump of lard. I hate you. You are pathetic. It’s no wonder no one loves you. I wish you’d get your act together and stop looking so miserable”. Well, if your inner critic is similarly harsh, then it’s definitely time to find within yourself an inner critic who is better motivated!

Reinventing your inner critic

Here’s what to do: start by visualizing the inner critic who currently exists within you. Concentrate on giving her a personality and features. If she acts monstrously towards you, give her a monstrous and unsympathetic face and imagine that face contorting as she delivers her negative speeches. Get ready to banish this inner critic from your mind because you are going to – slowly but surely – replace her with someone who has more beautiful characteristics.

Over the next month, each time she rears her nasty head, I want you mentally to push her away. Let yourself imagine her fighting back but failing to get the better of you. Force her out of an imaginary door before slamming it shut. Do this as often as necessary until she gets the message that she is NO LONGER WELCOME in your mind.

At the same time, I want you to introduce yourself to the new inner critic who will be moving into your mind. She is warm, approachable, objective, fair, just, positive, solution-oriented, truthful, caring, considerate, firm, knowledgeable, assertive, courageous, calm, smiling, and she’s a great friend to have. Imagine her dressed up, laughing, looking her best. And be sure to notice that she looks just like you!

By the time your month is up you’ll have persuaded your old horrid inner critic to move out and leave you alone. Spend another couple of weeks continuing to put your energy into connecting with your new, more positive inner critic. Focus on strengthening your bond with her, and build up your trust in what she has to say to you.

To help you do this, choose each day two or three of the characteristics I mentioned two paragraphs back. Perhaps something like “warm and approachable”. Focus on these characteristics as you begin to bring your new inner critic to life in your mind. Make up words of your own to focus on if you prefer them to my suggestions.

Gradually build up your self-esteem

On Day One, for example, you might imagine yourself being positive, smiling and a great friend. On Day Two image yourself being courageous, calm and caring. You can mix up the words and allow your imagination – as the days pass by – to bring your new, wonderful inner critic to life.

After one week, continue to visualize your inner critic in the way described above but then, before you finish, ask her an important question that is relevant to the situation you both share: “What do you think I could do to make tomorrow better than today?”Ā  This will invite your new inner critic to help you do well and feel better about yourself.

Just think how much better life would feel if you simply stopped wasting your time listening to an overly-harsh inner critic and spent it instead on building up your self-esteem in the areas where it is weak, enabling you to think positively and succeed in the things that matter most to you.


This article is copyright protected: 2003-2006, Ibex Management Limited.

Alison Finch is the Founder and Creator of Self Esteem for Women, which has become the most popular self-esteem site for women on the Internet. Since 2004, she has reached out to over 200,000 women from over 90 countries and provided the much needed help to build their self-esteem. Her unique approach to building self-esteem is refreshingly different and has a twelve-year proven track record of success.

Find out how to
honor your own Inner Critic
with a SoulCollageĀ® Card.