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What is your inner critic saying?

Your inner critic is a set of deeply held, negative beliefs about yourself. It’s often trying to motivate your behaviour, help you do better, strive harder and achieve more by imposing ‘shoulds’ on you. It’s developed early in life by messages you receive from those around you, your environment and yourself. The negative beliefs are very quickly internalised and become an internal monologue that can play on repeat. It might sound something like ‘you should have done better’, ‘you’re not good enough’, or ‘you’re useless’.

Unfortunately this type of criticism results in experiencing feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness, which are not helpful in motivating behaviour. These feelings are more likely to cause you to live in a state of perpetual fear of failure. This can lead to you avoiding or putting off important tasks, or using unhelpful strategies to manage your emotions such as working too hard, procrastinating or using drugs and alcohol.

The inner critic, however, can be tamed by the way you choose to interact with it, much like a barking dog in a park. You may see the dog as loud and scary and begin to imagine the harm it could cause you if it were to attack as you try and cross the park. The more nervous you get, the more you focus on the dog, the louder the dog barks, the more menacing it looks. Or, you may choose to notice the barking dog, and as you walk though the park allow yourself to become absorbed in other things around you, focusing on your walk, other aspects of the park and the goals ahead of you. The dog will still be barking, but it will have faded into the background, like someone has turned down the volume, or its dropped form your conscious awareness. It’s still barking, but you’re not giving it any further attention.

To consciously free yourself from your inner critic you need to firstly identify it. Often people will be so used to the inner critic’s presence you wont be aware when its in action. Psychological therapy such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can assist you to identify and challenge your inner critic, find some distance from its harmful influence and help you to focus on achieving your goals and living a meaningful life.

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