We have many inner dialogues or thought processes that are happening in the background or foreground of our mind. This dialogue comments, judges, compares, likes and complains about us and other people. Often the dialogue is unnecessary, worrying about past choices or future events. Some of this dialogue is necessary for us to carry on our daily lives i.e I need to leave in 2 hours to get to the meeting on time. However, much of the dialogue is negative and not helping us i.e. I can't believe you forgot that, you are so stupid.
This is the critical inner voice, a term first coined by psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone. This critical inner voice shapes your relationships; personal and professional. It affects your ability to make the most from opportunities and lowers your performance. It also causes low confidence and self-esteem. Its effects are described further in the PsychAlive blog article, Critical Inner Voice:
"These negative thoughts affect us by undermining our positive feelings about ourselves and others and fostering self-criticism, inwardness, distrust, self-denial, addictions and a retreat from goal-directed activities."
1. Identify the critical voice
The easiest way to identify the voice is to become aware of your internal commentary and judgement of the outside environment. Notice when you first see a colleague in the morning, you might think they look tired again. Standing at the bus stop you might think I can't believe this bus is late again, I hate public transport! This is your inner critical voice. Once you have identified it, you can start to become aware of the comments and judgments it makes about yourself. Pay particular attention to the thoughts that cause you to feel bad or change mood. Consider what situation just triggered them.
2. Understand where the critical voice came from
The critical voice is formed from negative and stressful experiences in childhood. Children pick up negative attitudes from their parents and internalise them. Children also pick up negative views that the parents have of themselves. Your inner critical voice will use similar phrases to those that you heard regularly in childhood. These phrases could also arise from negative experiences with other figures in childhood, like siblings or classmates. Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone describes this in her article for The Huffington Post, Your Critical Inner Voice: Are You Letting It Sabotage Your Relationships:
"Just as positive childhood experiences lead to confidence, ability and optimism, negative experiences lead us to low self-esteem, self-destructive behaviors and pessimism"
3. Change how you act on the critical voice
Try to concentrate on not engaging in behavior which supports the critical voice. This could involve challenging the voice and doing the opposite. For example, at a party, you see someone that you want to introduce yourself to. However, your critical voice might comment; that person would not want to speak to someone like you. How has your inner critical voice formed that opinion if you have never spoken to that person before. If you find it more effective, actually tell yourself this. You could take it a step further and go and introduce yourself to that person. Remember the critical voice also encourages you to take part in destructive behavior. At that same party, it might be encouraging you to have one too many drinks. This could be challenged with considering that you have enough personality to interact with friends without another drink and you will feel better in the morning.
4. Use positive affirmations
Affirmations are positive phrases that help rewire your internal voice. Write down some of the key phrases or beliefs that your critical voice uses regularly. Write down an affirmation that challenges that belief. Repeat these affirmations to yourself in the morning for 5 minutes in front of the mirror. Its sounds simple but trust me this really works. You might find it easier to listen to positive affirmations like the one posted below. It will sound a little odd at first as it's very unlikely someone would have spoken to you before like this, but stick with it and it will start to feel more natural. You can meditate on them, listen whilst in the bath, on the way to work etc.
5. Seek professional help
A qualified mental health professional, like a psychotherapist, counsellor or psychologist is trained to help you understand your internal world and change negative thought patterns and behavior. A course of therapy provides you with a safe space to explore the origins of the critical inner voice and help you to overcome it.
Critical Inner Voice, Psych Alive Blog https://www.psychalive.org/critical-inner-voice/
Lisa Firestone, Your Critical Inner Voice: Are You Letting It Sabotage Your Relationships?- Huffington Post https://www.huffpost.com/entry/critical-inner-voice_b_861937