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What To Do If You’re Very Self-Critical

letitgoA friend of mine thinks her adult children are wonderful people, and yet often she can’t sleep due to her constant self-criticism over the mistakes she feels she made parenting her children when they were young. The fact that she’s proud of them now and they love her does nothing to stop the self-criticism or alleviate the guilt she feels.


Like my friend, I have a very vocal inner critic, which magnifies the negatives, minimizes the positives, and often sees future possibilities through a filter of pessimism, which tends to temporarily blind me to all that is truly possible.


Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work to temper that self-critic—through a process of mindfully looking at what my inner critic has to say and learning to disempower it.


The first step in disempowering our inner critic, I’ve found, is to understand what created it.


How Our Inner Critic Is Formed

Our inner critic is always “past based,” meaning it uses our past experiences and the reactions and interpretations we had of them to create the programming for the self-critical commentary we hear as adults. We received most of those initial negative “learning experiences” as children, usually from our parents, other caretakers, or siblings.


Once we received the criticism, we internalized it, and today the voice in our head still echoes the same sentiments. For example, if as kids we were regularly told that we were “wrong” or “not good enough” by our parents, siblings, or other caretakers, as adults, if we aren’t mindful, we allow our inner critic to operate on automatic pilot and we unknowingly allow it to deliver the same kinds of self-critical messages when we are unsure about ourselves.


A child’s inner critic can be vicious. Consider, for instance, how common it is for a child to mistakenly blame him- or herself for a parent’s death or a divorce even though the child bares no responsibility for it.


Children who experience feeling that it’s their “fault” that their parents divorced, for example, may grow into adults who perpetually feel that they’re not good enough—very often blaming themselves when something goes wrong. It’s similar to how abused children continue to feel unworthy because they blamed themselves for their abuse rather than holding the perpetrator accountable.

This pattern of self-blame can perpetuate into adulthood, where we unconsciously allow our inner critic to attach those old, false feelings of unworthiness to current situations in which we also feel unworthy and “responsible.”


Disempowering Your Inner Critic

Once we understand how our inner critic is created and perpetuated, we need to disempower it with this simple truth: My inner critic is not me; it’s not an appropriate, productive part of my thought process; it’s just old pain, developed in childhood, causing a false sense of unworthiness in the present.


By mastering this mindful approach, I am able to hear the self-criticism and simply tell myself, “It’s just my old programing,” and let the thoughts pass by like clouds floating through the sky rather than holding on to the criticism as if were the truth. The result for me is a lot less pain and a greater ability to live in the present, where good things are possible and I’m free to feel good about myself.


  • 20 Jun, 2014
  • Posted by Steve Fogel
  • 6 Tags

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