Woman looking behind her and seeing shadow of herself looking upset with her eyes looking towards the left.

Is Trying to Silence the Inner Critic a Waste of Time?

By Diana M. Garcia, MS, LMHC, author of Negative Thoughts Happen

The short answer is, YES!

Okay, let me expand on this by having you do a little thought experiment. You game?

Think about something that you’ve been struggling with. You know that thing where your inner critic can deliver a KO whenever you go toe-to-toe? The thing that, even when you just think about it, causes you to have a visceral reaction and want to move away? Whether that means subtly turning your head, putting up your hands to push it away, or maybe just wincing slightly when you think about it.

Now that you have this painful issue in mind, think about what is at the core of the criticism that your inner critic slings your way. Is it something along the lines of “You’re such a lousy parent, partner, boss, etc.”? Or maybe it’s something along the lines of “You’re so boring, incompetent, dumb, etc.” Or you know, maybe your inner critic gets straight to the point and says, “You’re worthless.”

Now, think, how old is that thought? Or better yet, how young were you the first time you recall having that (or a similar) thought?

Ouch! I know.

If you’re lucky, maybe this is a relatively new thought, and the inner critic is a unique experience for you. And yet, in my personal and clinical experience, that’s not the case for most of us (including myself).

If your inner critic has been on repeat in the background for a long time, what makes you think something will magically happen to make it disappear?

And listen, it’s not because you’re doing anything wrong. That’s just the way our minds work.

To back up for a second, when I refer to the inner critic, I mean a consistent negative chatter generated from your mind. This chatter focuses on providing feedback on anything and everything you do. The outcome is that this part of your mind constantly judges and puts you down.

A common misconception about the inner critic is that we must eliminate it to feel happier, increase self-esteem, and make brave but scary life choices. Because our society buys into this, most people believe they must figure out how to silence their inner critic.

Not only does that not work, but you end up spending endless time and energy focused on this negative internal part. This keeps you stuck in a neverending debate, sometimes trying to brawl with it or becoming a slave to your inner critic. You believe you must wait for these thoughts to go away to make meaningful life changes.

So, what should you do instead of wasting time trying to silence your inner critic?

1. You can become skilled at noticing and naming when your inner critic has gotten on the loudspeakers, and its associated impact on your life. How do you know when the inner critic is

waking up and what tends to happen to you—emotionally and behaviorally? A great way to start to notice it is by looking back at your experience with it and recognizing any physical changes that happen, i.e., tension in your chest, a feeling of emptiness in your stomach, etc. Think about what follows in terms of how you feel: shame, fear, sadness, all of the above. And then, how has that typically influenced your behaviors? Do you tend to want to run and hide? Do you get angry and defensive? Do you go into shutdown mode? The more you notice this and start to name it, “Oh, here we go again, my inner critic has stolen the spotlight again,” the more you can create some small space to do something different than reverting to trying to silence it.

2. Practice some much-needed self-compassion in the moment. One of the easiest ways I have found with my clients is to think about how you would treat a loved one experiencing a similar difficulty. Even noticing how your sense of warmth, including your tone of voice or inclination for affection, might be different when it’s directed toward a loved one. How can you embody some of that and direct it toward yourself? You can also consider what you need to get through this challenging moment. It’s okay that the inner critic brings on painful feelings, and your job isn’t to try to avoid this or get stuck battling it, but to tune into your self-love radio frequency instead. Sometimes, the inner critic station will turn back on; that’s okay. When you notice it again, return to your self-love broadcast, knowing you’re also directing some of that to your inner critic.

3. One of the most crucial things you can do to reduce your inner critic’s hold on your life is to be intentional with your behaviors despite what your inner critic says. I mean, you can listen to what your critic is saying and consider if it’s helpful to listen to any of its feedback. When I say helpful—will listening to what it says bring you closer to acting like the person you want to be in this moment/situation? If so, okay, then you can listen to it. If not, then consider what behaviors you could do in this moment that would move you closer to how you want to show up. When it comes to your inner critic, the actual cost is not necessarily that it’s present, but that it stops you from showing up to your life in a way that taps into your purpose or values. The more you can continue showing up this way in your life, the less control your inner critic will have.

I hope you’re starting to see that it’s not worth spinning your wheels trying to silence your inner critic. Instead, when you recognize it’s getting activated, see if you can practice doing one of these three things to start to shift your relationship with your inner critic. The more you are willing to make room for your inner critic, treat it with some kindness, and still take small but mighty steps forward, the better off you will be.

Diana M. Garcia, MS, LMHC, is a licensed therapist, and founder and owner of Nurturing Minds Counseling. In her practice, she helps people feel calm, confident, and kick-ass in their daily lives.

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