The inner critic is the voice inside your head that beats you up and puts you down.This part of you believes that you are not good enough, talented enough, attractive enough- the list goes on. This often sounds something like, “I should….” For example, “I should be a better friend”, “I should have thought of the right thing to say,” or “I should stop being so lazy.”
This is sometimes referred to as “shoulding all over yourself.” It can create a great deal of despair. This perfectionistic voice within is associated with poor mental health outcomes such as depression and anxiety. It is often helpful to remove the word, “should,” and instead replace it with “want” or “choose.” For example, “I want to be a better friend” is more helpful as it encourages rather than discourages the listener.
Everyone has an inner critic to one degree or another. Often, this voice is partly a result of critical parents or caregivers. For example, when a child experiences praise for earning 100% on assignments, yet receives criticism when the grade is anything less, they may learn that anything short of perfect is simply not enough. This way of parenting can extend to various situations (e.g. sports performance, chores, etc.) all with the same detrimental effect.
Although our upbringing may contribute to self-judgement, it is up to you to take responsibility for your current mental health. Other contributing factors to perfectionistic beliefs include your current environment at home, work, or school, society’s expectations, and negative thinking patterns.
Unrealistic expectations of oneself lead to low self-esteem. This thirst for personal perfection is associated with fear and self-doubt. On the other hand, having high expectations of oneself is not always a bad thing. When you can focus on the process and celebrate the victories along the way, holding high standards usually leads to great successes.
Healthy expectations include a sense of flexibility, where it is not too upsetting if you do not meet your goals. The key is to be kind to yourself, and to maintain courage to persist in the face of failure. Healthy expectations must include the acceptance of imperfection.
The inner critic doesn’t have to rule your life. You can learn how to silence that critical voice and develop an inner cheerleader instead. With the help of a counselor it really is easier than you think. You will quickly learn that your inner critic doesn’t have that much left to say anymore.