One central idea in the book Conquer your Critical Inner Voice by Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., and Joyce Catlett, M.A., is that we have both a critical inner voice and a voice that represents the “real you.” They have very different ways of communicating to us and only the real you will lead to constructive action.
The real you is nurturing and has your best interest at heart. It is made from your unique qualities such as temperament, physical abilities, and attributes you connect with in your care-givers and environment around you. The real you grows and develops through nurturing, love, and care.
On the other hand, your critical inner voice tends to talk in “shoulds” and has a degrading and punishing tone. It results in feelings badly about yourself. Whether you are working towards your wants or needs, or when you have pulled back from striving, your critical inner voice is there to tell you you are wrong. You end up with self-hatred and fail to take constructive steps to help you attain your wants and needs.
By identifying your critical inner voice you can start to learn if the real you or the critical inner voice is guiding your actions. It can be helpful to think in terms of the second person to realize that the critical inner voice was something you learned or heard from others and is separate from the real you. So example, rather than “I’m incompetent” frame it as “You are incompetent.”
With practice, you can recognize your critical inner voice and talk back to it from the perspective of the real you. So, instead of “You are incompetent” the real you may sound like, “This has been really challenging. You’ve been able to do difficult things before, and you’ll be able to figure this out. What will help you to learn how to do this?”
Rather than being beaten down by critical inner voices that take away hope, energy, and motivation, you can tune in to the real you. The real you supports and encourages you to believe in yourself and take action to live more freely and in accordance with your values.
Below are some steps taken from the book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice to help you change self-limiting behaviors.
Step One: Recognize the hostility that is coming from your critical inner voice
Tune into your critical voice when you are feeling critical of yourself and write down what those criticisms are. Reframe the voice to describe them in the second person, as “you” statements. For example, instead of saying “I am incompetent,” you would say “You are incompetent.” Think about what it would feel like if someone told you this directly, or you told it to your child, or someone else you cared about and wanted to succeed.
Step Two: Develop compassion for yourself and the ways you have been treated
Look at some of the items you wrote down from step one. Notice if any of them sound familiar Think who might have given you that message. More than likely, the messages you tell yourself were directed at you when you were a child. Realize that when you were a child you were very vulnerable. You had no way to defend yourself, and developmentally were not capable of realizing that adults in your life could be wrong.
Step Three: Use the real you to talk back to what the critical inner voice is telling you
Find the “real you” by writing down the things that make you unique – temperament, physical attributes, abilities, and other positive qualities. What goals are you working on? What kind of person are you striving to become? Talk back to your critical inner voice from the perspective of the real you.
For example, when your critical inner voice tells you “you are incompetent,” the real you may say something like, “Hold on. Yes, this is challenging, but it doesn’t make me incompetent. I’ve accomplished many things in the past. With some patience, I know that I can learn this too.”
Step Four: Use what you learn about your critical inner voice to make positive changes
Write down instances where you critical inner voice prevented you from reaching a goal. Reflect how it could be trying to limit you now and in the future.
Step Five: Take actions that are consistent with the real you
Identify what self-defeating behaviors your critical inner voice wants you to do.Make an effort to avoid engaging in self-defeating behaviors that your critical inner voice tell you to do. Identify what actions the real you wants you to take. Increase actions that come from the real you.
For example, someone who in the past has struggled with feelings of competency could step outside of their comfort zone, and use self talk that is nurturing, supportive, and hopeful.
Kathy is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, Texas.
360 Counseling is her private practice.