"A man cannot rest easy without his own approval," wrote Mark Twain. And this tells us that we all have an inner critic who can be more or less harsh, relentless or even cruel. On some occasions that voice can take over, becoming a constant and deafening monologue that silences reason.
That critic will tell us that we are not smart enough or talented enough, that we are not attractive, sociable, thin, successful enough ... He will continually remind us of every past mistake or failure - however remote, small or insignificant it may be - mercilessly crushing our own. self-esteem and eliminating any trace of motivation.
If we don't limit that critical self but let it go, it will not only become unpleasant, but it could come to limit or even harm us. We could turn into our worst enemy and our biggest obstacle.
Your inner critic is not you
Our inner critic is one of several 'I's that coexist in our personality. According to the “Theory of I”, our personality is made up of different “I's” that take control as needed, to protect us from danger, ensure our survival and make us less vulnerable.
But these selves don't always protect us - or at least not in the best way. Sometimes they can show a self-destructive impulse, as in the case of an out-of-control, non-critical self. If we let our inner critic dominate the other selves that make up our personality, sooner or later we will end up having a problem.
In other words, if we are much more critical than kind to ourselves, if we spend more time punishing ourselves for our mistakes than rejoicing at the results, we will easily fall into a vicious cycle of negative thoughts which in turn will generate inner malaise, and this it can cause us to develop limiting or self-damaging behaviors.
The critical self does not come out of nowhere, it begins to develop in our childhood. In fact, if we pay attention to his dialogue, we will probably be amazed to find that some of the phrases of his speech and that we use to criticize ourselves do not even belong to us, they are a reminder of what our parents or other authority figures told us.
This means that if our parents were very authoritarian, perfectionist and demanding, it is likely that our critical selves are one of the predominant selves in our personality, so we cannot even take a step without being assailed by his critical speech.
How to balance the inner critic?
Excessive self-criticism is not helpful. Psychologists at the University of Missouri found, after analyzing more than 800 teenagers and young people over a six-month period, that those who used to complain and criticize themselves often put themselves at a greater risk of suffering from depression or anxiety.
Criticism itself is not negative, but when it is constant and excessive it becomes limiting, to the point of paralyzing or dusting our self-esteem, so it is not strange that we end up suffering enormous anxiety due to fear of failure or a severe depression generated by the feeling of worthlessness.
Unfortunately, silencing the inner critic is not that simple, especially when he is one of the dominant selves of our personality. We can argue with that voice in search of counter-arguments, use positive affirmations, or even act as if it doesn't exist, but none of these strategies usually work. On the contrary, they often have the opposite effect: they strengthen the inner critic and give him more power.
The key to change is to take power away from our critical selves. A simple, practical and very effective trick to do this is to give it a name. When we associate a name with that entry, we automatically take away its authority and importance.
Giving him a proper name, which differentiates our critical self from ourselves, will also allow us to assume the necessary psychological distance, which will help us to evaluate his speech with greater objectivity. We must not forget that due to selective laziness, 60% of the time we would be willing to dismiss our own arguments when they are put forward by someone else.
This means that we are likely to be more critical of other people's ideas than our own. Naming our critical selves will allow us to be critical of his ideas.
Of course, the ultimate goal is not to get rid of the critical self because a little self-criticism is always needed. It cannot become one of our disowned selves. The ultimate goal is to ensure that this inner critic is in balance with the other kinder and more motivating selves, so as to help us grow as people, instead of condemning us to permanent dissatisfaction with ourselves.