Insights: Taming the Inner Critic

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So often I hear people talk negatively about themselves. I do not find this a beneficial thing to do. When I share this with them, there response is often that it is the way they motivate themselves. This is what keeps them accountable to what they should do.

We often do not realize how critical we are of ourselves. For many of us there is a constant voice inside of us reporting what we have done wrong.  The trouble is it is like an underground river that we do not know is there, therefore causing havoc without even realizing it.

The problem with the critic is it actually does the opposite of what we think it does. It does not motivate us. Instead, it feeds the brain in a way that we create what we call a neuro-network; in other words, a bunch of cells feeding the same information to us.

This neuro-network believes what it is told over and over again even if it is not true. Then it takes it even further and starts to prove what the critic is saying is true. The brain is looking into your environment and is scanning for any evidence that your critic is right. What is interesting here is what the brain might call evidence is often not accurate information going into the brain.

If we take this to another level, when we are critical of ourselves, we often struggle to hold the positive and the good in our lives.

People may compliment us, and we have a difficult time internalizing the compliment. Instead, we search the neuro-network in the brain to prove that they are wrong. Often this is done unconsciously.

This also might reach beyond just people complimenting us and on to whether we did a good job with something or not.

The brain struggles to hold all the incoming information, so we may have done a great job with cleaning up the house, however if we are used to being critical with ourselves, our brain is going to look for the piece we did not do so well rather than all the good we did.  \

This goes back to the brain, focusing on where we put most of our energy.

So what is the solution to having this inner critic?

We have to be our own best friend. Imagine if we treated a friend the way we treat ourselves? Do you think they would still want to be friends with you? I know for sure I would not have many friends if I talked to them the way I have talked to myself at times.

What to do with this inner critic is another thing. Actually, it is pretty simple, although not always easy: Be our own best friend.

This means being kind and compassionate. This does not mean going around thinking we do not do anything wrong. We can still be objective, but not critical.

The other day I found myself being critical of myself when the hard drive on my computer stopped working and I lost some of my information for my taxes.

I know, I should have backed up more than I did. I found myself getting mad at myself for this, as I know better.

I was saying to myself “I can’t believe you did that,” “Now look what you have to do,” and “Really Shelly, you know better,”

These statements were not said in a nice voice; they had a tone to them that was not very pleasant. Then I stopped myself and said “what is this inviting you to learn” and “lets figure this out, we will get through it.”

It does not change the situation, but it does change how I feel about myself and gets me sorting out my stuff.

Your self-talk is so important. It can determine the satisfaction of your life.  If your self-talk is positive, or at least neutral, your brain will look at how to solve the problem rather than being stuck in the negative.

We will never be perfect, therefore do not expect that of yourself. Our goal is to do and be the best we can be, and that best is different at different times.

Learn from your mistakes. Have compassion. This makes life a lot more enjoyable when we come from a place of self-love rather than of self-criticism. It is your choice.

As author and motivational speaker Louise Hay said, “You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

I like that idea.

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected].

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