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Control Your Inner Critic and Stop Your Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Stinkin’ thinkin’… if ever there was an aptly descriptive phrase, that one is surely so. The little gem originated in AA as a way to describe thinking that would likely lead a person back to drinking. Over time, the phrase came to be used to describe any number of self-destructive thought processes. And the thinker of such unsavory thoughts is also aptly labeled. We call the “voice” of such thoughts our Inner Critic.

The Inner Critic is that “messenger” inside us that delivers critical, disapproving dialogue into our brains. The critiques include such statements as, You are flawed. You are unlovable. You are not capable. You don’t deserve better.

Who Do You Think You Are?

Jay Earley, Ph.D, is author of Freedom From Your Inner Critic, with co-author Bonnie Weiss, LCSW (Inner Critic Series Books). He developed the Self-Therapy Journey, an interactive online tool based on the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, originated by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. According to Dr. Earley, there are seven basic types of Inner Critic:

  • The Perfectionist voices a need to set standards so high that you are unlikely to ever be able to live up to them. It fears being judged or rejected.
  • The Guilt-Tripper can’t let go of the past, and won’t allow you to forgive yourself for wrongs you have done or people you have hurt.
  • The Underminer undermines your self-confidence and self-esteem. It keeps you so doubtful about yourself that you won’t take risks.
  • The Destroyer attacks your self-worth, shames you and tells you that you are fundamentally flawed.
  • The Molder tells you that, in order to be accepted and not rejected, you must conform to standards of your family, society or your culture.
  • The Taskmaster relentlessly pushes you to work harder and be successful, lest you be judged as a failure.
  • The Inner Controller seeks to control your inner impulses, so that they will not get out of control, and you become unacceptable in the eyes of others.

Related: Lemons to Lemonade: How Learned Optimism Works

All our Inner Critic messages actually have positive intentions behind them. They seek to protect us from being judged, shamed or rejected. Regardless of their good intentions, Inner Critic messages are programmed into our minds in a negative way that elicits anxiety and fear rather than motivation. We tend to believe these messages because, in our anxiety, we turn away from the messages so quickly that we do not take time to dispute them.

We need to recognize that the voice of the Inner Critic is not reality… it is simply an expression of our fear, doubts and worries. Do not view such messages as truth! And more importantly, do not act on these messages. Don’t base your expectations and decisions on these automatic, programmed thinking errors.

Self-Talk and Your Inner Critic

…research suggests that eliminating negative self-talk is more important in building and maintaining self-esteem than engaging in positive self-talk…-Rita Milios

Since the voice of the Inner Critic is your own self-talk, it is imperative that you begin to take charge of your inner dialogue. Recent research suggests that eliminating negative self-talk is more important in building and maintaining self-esteem than engaging in positive self-talk; and it is the ratio of positive to negative self-statements that matter even more than their frequency.

To gain control of automatic, negative statements, you must first recognize when you are experiencing them. Begin by intending to become more aware of them and choosing to notice them. This is the first step in controlling these habituated error messages.

You might want to simply keep track of how many negative statements you make to yourself over the course of a few days. You will likely be amazed at the sheer number. Next, once you have seen how much self-destructive dialogue you are allowing yourself to experience, make a commitment to put a stop to it. Whenever you begin to notice that you are about to engage in negative commentary, STOP. Change the message before it is completed. For instance, if you find yourself thinking, that wasn’t good enough, I should have done better, change the inner dialogue to I see where I might have made an improvement; I’ll do that next time.

If you consistently practice making such changes, you can turn this self-destructive habit around. You will be on your way to gaining Learned Optimism, where you dispute and refuse to allow negative self-appraisals to influence your decisions and actions. You, instead, will come to expect positive outcomes.

You will be on your way to gaining Learned Optimism, where you dispute and refuse to allow negative self-appraisals to influence your decisions and actions.-Rita Milios

Using a CBT Thought Record to Dispute Negative Self-Appraisals

Psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D., in his Learned Optimism approach, teaches an A,B,C,D,E method for changing negative self-talk into positive (see article Lemons to Lemonade: How Learned Optimism Works). In this approach, D is for disputing automatic, negative thoughts. The use of a Thought Record is a well-documented method, from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to effectively dispute and reframe negative messages from your Inner Critic.

Record each of the following:

  • The automatic trigger thought and accompanying situation: (ex: thought: I’m not good enough; situation: A work project that was not going as well as hoped)
  • Feelings: (ex: I’m fearful and doubtful about my abilities)
  • Unhelpful thoughts/mental images: additional negative messages that stem from the originating trigger thought (ex: The boss will not like my work; I will be embarrassed and my job may be in jeopardy)
  • Facts that support negative thoughts: (ex: I have performed poorly in the past and my boss has expressed disappointment in my work)
  • Facts that don’t support negative thoughts: (ex: I recognized that I needed to improve my skills, so I took more training. I am improving)
  • Substitute an alternative, more balanced thought for the negative appraisal: (Ex: Since I have had more training and I am improving, I do have the ability to complete this project. I need to focus on that)
  • Outcome: Re-evaluate how you feel after reframing your inner dialogue to a more positive perspective. (Ex: Now that I can see the issue from a more positive perspective, I feel better about my chances of success. This way of thinking is actually much more supportive of my goal)

Use these strategies and become your own best friend, not your worst critic.


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