Silencing your inner ctitic
July 6, 2005 3:14 PM   Subscribe

How do you silence your harsh inner critic?
posted by sugarfish to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean the inner voice that criticizes your actions or do you mean on-board terrorists/your Inner Dread Pirate Roberts ("You did OK today, but I'll likely kill you in the morning.")?

If it's the first, find the source of the voice (sometimes it's a voice or charicature of a voice of a parent or a sibling and not fully your own voice) then start asking yourself follow up with questions that anyone should ask with regards to any critic, like, "what are you basing your judgement on?" "Is it fair?" "Would I say the same thing if it was work by someone else and not me?"

If it's the latter, for me that usually indicates an emotional feedback that needs expression.
posted by plinth at 3:26 PM on July 6, 2005

I try to be more trusting of other people. When you criticize your own work, your friends/family are bound to tell you "No no, it's wonderful." Sure, sometimes they're "just saying that," but not always. Believe them.
posted by danb at 3:31 PM on July 6, 2005

I strangled him, weighted the body, and dumped it in the deepest part of the lake.

proverbially speaking
posted by keswick at 3:31 PM on July 6, 2005

Hmmm ... Is it even possible to decide what to think and not think? Perhaps the goal should be to reach an accommodation, to make life easier to enjoy? In which case, when the critic pops up, one might internally acknowledge the factual part of the criticism ("Yes, sometimes I'm really clumsy") but question the import ("but so are a lot of other people, and it's not a big deal. And it doesn't follow that I'm the world's greatest loser.")

Another part of mitigating internal criticism (like external criticism) is to avoid "should have" statements ("I should have checked references before I hired him"), in favor of "next time" ("Next time, I will .... ). "Should have" statements simply reinforce what the critic said; "next time" statements are a way of using that criticism constructively, as well as shifting the focus away from (unchangable) past actions.
posted by WestCoaster at 3:34 PM on July 6, 2005

I've been doing Weight Watchers for a couple months now - stop smirking! I've lost eighteen pounds - and the "inner critic" thing is something that comes up fairly regularly. Even though you're making progress towards your goal, it's easy to still think of yourself as you used to be and slip back in to those negative thoughts. The most recent idea our group came up with is to tie positive thoughts to specific actions, and work on incorporating those throughout the day. Like thinking about how fit you're getting when you put on your running shoes, or how great you look when you brush your teeth, etc. The idea isn't so much to silence the critic but to drown him out and gradually replace that voice with a more positive one. I'm not sure what kind of "critic" you're facing, sugarfish, but it could be worth trying.

danb's suggestion is a good one too. When my family and friends say "You look great!", I tend to believe they're just being nice. But I recently found a shopping buddy whose judgement I really trust, so when she says "That jacket looks fabulous on you" I really believe her. Maybe find someone you considered knowledgeable in whatever field you're beating yourself up about and see what they think.
posted by web-goddess at 3:41 PM on July 6, 2005

Write it all down what you tell yourself when you get self critical. ALL of it. Then ask someone who you trust (or do it yourself - just make sure you are objective) to sit with you and figure out if any of what you tell yourself is explicitly, verifiably true, false or don't know.

Most of the time I'm surprised to find that what I tell myself is untrue or I don't know. For instance, while it might be true that I haven't completed a task that I told myself I would do, it doesn't justify calling myself a loser, stupid, idiot, jerk, etc. It's simply not true that I am always or even most of the time those things.

It's a step, but it's one that helps me immeasurably.
posted by mulkey at 3:46 PM on July 6, 2005

I try to make a conscious effort to turn the radio channel in my head from KFKD ("You're going to fail, you're stupid, you're fat, nobody likes you...") to something more pleasant. Kenny G is good. Seriously, though, just acknowledging that you're mentally badgering yourself, making an effort to stop, and purposely thinking some positive things seems to make a difference over time. You just have to establish new habits.
posted by bonheur at 3:48 PM on July 6, 2005

Is it even possible to decide what to think and not think?

I read a book about Buddhism that talked about just labeling the thoughts that come up during meditation as "thinking" -- without dwelling on them -- and just let them go away. After doing that for a while in meditation, I found I was able to operate with the nagging voices by doing the same in my head. So, yeah, I have been able to control thinking pretty effectively like that, although I don't believe that was the intended Buddhist use.

When I'm being down on myself, I find that using other people's validation just makes me needy and neurotic. The less I look for outside validation, the better the internal voice seems to get.

For instance, if I tell myself I have a big ass, either I just deal with it or I do something about it. I'm not ever gonna make me happier with my ass by staring at it and berating myself, right?

But that's what works for me. Of course, YAMV (Your Ass May Vary).
posted by Gucky at 3:56 PM on July 6, 2005

Most of what's been suggested above is the basics of cognitive-behavioral therapy-- write down your negative thoughts, develop arguments to yourself that show the irrationality of these thoughts, then adopt behaviors that support your new positive view.

It was a great help to me, and you don't necessarily need a therapist to do it. This book will help you identify the types of thoughts you are having, and gives step by step exercises for addressing them.
posted by InfidelZombie at 4:03 PM on July 6, 2005

I am very critical of myself and what I do, and am never really happy with what I produce creatively. I've learned to counter this by reminding myself that doing something - anything - is better than doing nothing. By continually trying and usually failing (at least with regards to my own high standards) I can only improve, and that I can always congratulate myself for being someone that is continually making an effort. It's simple, but it keeps me motivated.
posted by fire&wings at 4:07 PM on July 6, 2005

I agree with much of what has been said here, and I only recently learned that it's labelled as CBT by those that know. But it's somehow affirming (given the thread) to see others engaged in similar processes.

One key that I was told especially when starting out is not to be hard on yourself for having the kinds of thoughts you're looking to move past. That is extra-ironic or something given that the type of thoughts under consideration here are indeed those thoughts. But didn't they talk about a Shame Spiral on the Simpsons many years ago?

Point being - if you decide to listen to your thoughts and make note of them when they are negative and try to move away from that, when you catch yourself having those negative thoughts, don't mark it as a failure, just acknowledge it more dispassionately, and don't worry about it - you will have those thoughts, in fact each time is an opportunity to engage in the new behaviors you are trying to learn.

Sorry for my late-afternoon inarticulateness. Great question and great answers, MeFites.
posted by stevil at 4:09 PM on July 6, 2005

In general, I find it helps to not fight the voices - like get into an argument with them, as it just gives them power. What I try to do is listen attentively, and try to understand where that voice is coming from. This gets you into knowing more about the parts of yourself, your inner family as I've heard it called. Once you get to know the characters inside you, and you get an idea of where they're coming from, it seems like it's easier to know how to respond to the voices - for instance, a part of you might criticize you becaues it's feeling threatened by your success, or worried about what'll happen if you successfully take some kind of step, or whatever. Just like with people outside you, if you know that, it gives you a better view of what's going on and helps you decide how to respond.
posted by jasper411 at 4:16 PM on July 6, 2005

Just tell it "okay, you're so smart, you take over and see if you do any better." If it's not a fully-fledged alternate personality capable of running things on its own, it'll shut up. But if it is you might need an exorcist.

(I'm only half kidding.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:22 PM on July 6, 2005

Here's the trade-off. If you're able to become less self-critical, you'll be happier and more productive. You'll also make more mistakes and be wrong more often, but probably not in ways that really matter. So the question is, how much is your intellectual pride worth to you? I'm actually contemplating this proposition myself at the moment. I believe that if a person consciously chooses to make this trade, the actual change in behavior will come easily but people like us have a whole world view constructed around the supremacy of our rational brains that is not easy to give up.

A related story: it used to be that if I woke up in the middle of the night, I would inevitably end up worrying about something or other and lose sleep. Eventually I realized that this was just my brain looking for something to worry about and since then I've simply ignored any worries that come to me in the night - I just think "At this point, my brain is not working properly and I shall ignore it".

On preview, I love George_Spiggott's suggestion!
posted by teleskiving at 4:28 PM on July 6, 2005

(not the best or most popular answer): Drinking, mostly vodka. Shuts those little fellers right up.

But seriously - I was my own worst critic until I convinced myself that a) I don't really care what other people think and therefor b) I don't really care what I think, either, since my inner critic is usually just telling me what I think other people are thinking about me. It's very zen.
posted by muddgirl at 4:28 PM on July 6, 2005

Don't be afraid that the critic might sometimes be right. Don't make it an all or nothing thing. If you manage to silence the critical thoughts 99% and then 1% they get the best of you, there will be a nagging suspicion inside you that for the rest of the 99%, you were just kidding yourself.

Pretend your critical tendencies are a crotchety old man living up in the attic. Don't write him off entirely-- sometimes you can learn a lot from a Devil's advocate-- but be sure to take his comments with a grain of salt.
posted by 4easypayments at 4:31 PM on July 6, 2005

Here's a related question.
posted by fuzz at 4:41 PM on July 6, 2005

By listening to what he says, and addressing the parts of myself that I can improve.
posted by Jairus at 4:46 PM on July 6, 2005

bonheur: "Kenny G is good."

Excuse me? :-)

Also, I want to second what fire&wings said. Trying already puts you ahead of the game.
posted by danb at 5:18 PM on July 6, 2005

Without resorting to cheesy "inner child" stuff, I find it useful to ask myself "If you had a child who wasn't accomplishing the tasks you thought she should be accomplishing, would you encourage her or criticize her? What would be most effective, and what would make her feel like less of a failure and more of someone who could actually accomplish whatever she wanted?" and then I remind myself that if I'm ever going to actually have children, I should practice this. A lot.
posted by judith at 11:08 PM on July 6, 2005

Yeah, when I'm *down* I can't think of anything good that I've done/accomplished - only the bad shit that I've done pops into my mind when I try to review myself - and reviewing tends to happen a lot more then. (When I'm up, I *still* can't think of anything "good" that I've done/accomplished, but the stupid/bad stuff doesn't flood it's way into the forefront of my brain).

When I'm "normal" I just think about the goals that I've set myself and how I've tried/managed/accomplished meeting them. It's hard, much of the time. Thinking about the girls that've smiled at me (or more) helps.

When I'm less-than-normal, I try to stick with a routine (which I set while "normal") and just plug away.

When I'm better-than-normal, it's not a problem, so I ... don't need to deal with such things... besides, "better-than-normal" doesn't occur very often nor for very long so it isn't so much a "problem."
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:21 PM on July 6, 2005

I have to limit the amount of time that I spend on any one thing or I'll spend forever doing it. (This is a huge problem for me). So I constantly remind myself that there are only so many hours in a day, only so many days in a lifetime. It's better to do a not perfect job and get it done than it is to try to please the inner critic and never get anything accomplished.

[This post, for example: I'm not happy with it, but I'm not going to revise it any more. It's time for me to eat and get a shower and go to bed. I'll just have to live with the poor word smithery.]
posted by Clay201 at 2:16 AM on July 7, 2005

It's a little embarassing, but I interrupt the thought by saying "shut up". Sometimes out loud - though not in public of course.
posted by Radio7 at 3:14 AM on July 7, 2005

i break down the thought (in writing) and try to see where it's coming from. a lot of the time it will be attitudes from the past that aren't mine (family family family) that i don't even agree with. for me doing this has the turning on the light and seeing there's nothing under the bed effect.

that's for battling the voices. to hear them less i work on strengthening my own. for me this means journaling, listing, blogging and generally anything that helps me get to know myself better and accept myself.

good luck (to us all) on this one.
posted by mirileh at 3:49 AM on July 7, 2005

My inner-critic is a voice on an infinite-loop tape. The problem is, I can't just erase it, I have to record over it. In my quiet moments - exersizing, waiting in line, boring meeting - I try to over dub a message that better serves me. On preview: more deliberate efforts like journaling and prayer help change the recording too.
posted by klarck at 4:08 AM on July 7, 2005

Humor is of help to me in dealing with my own harsh inner critic. Instead of viewing it as the Voice of a Mighty and Powerful Oz, I simply recast it in my mind as emanating from a small, pompous, fussbudgety ridiculous little twit. Then I pop him into a glass jar, clap on the lid, and mock him mercilessly as he jumps up and down waving his podgy little arms.

Then I go out and look at the sky, and breathe, and think about how very huge the world is, with billions and billions of people, none of whom care even slightly about whatever it is I'm beating myself up about.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:36 AM on July 7, 2005

Radio7 writes "It's a little embarassing, but I interrupt the thought by saying 'shut up'. Sometimes out loud - though not in public of course."

I like this method for a quick fix. For longer term, there are two different things I do: I set myself a small task and do it well, like, say, clean the toilet. This can be a five minute fix that turns things around. Cleaning is pretty good in this way.

The other thing I do if something is really bothering me is to sit down and write about it. Particularly if I'm beating myself up over decisions I've made, I try and reconstruct the reasoning that went into the decision. This can be helpful as usually my critic has conveniently forgotten the salient points and simply assumed that the decision must be wrong because nothing is 100%
posted by OmieWise at 6:04 AM on July 7, 2005

Oh, the other thing is that I have been spending more time acknowledging bad feelings. When I feel sad, I try not to condemn myself, or to fix it so that I don't feel sad, as these are different sides of the same coin. Instead, I say to myself, yes, you're sad, of course you are, you just (for instance) broke up with someone you were seeing for a year, you should be sad. That way I can concentrate on the content of the emotion, and not let it progress to criticism. And also not fear that the emotion must lead to criticism. Does that make sense?
posted by OmieWise at 6:08 AM on July 7, 2005

As others have mentioned, definitely check out the techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The book Feeling Good has been very helpful to me. I love that there's actually a way to reason myself out of my depression and self-criticism. It appeals to the logical, pragmatic side of me.

One of the techniques you use in CBT to silence the inner critic is writing down those negative thoughts, seeing what fallacy you're falling into with that thought, and then writing down a rebuttal. For example, if your thought after forgetting a friend's birthday was "I'm horrible. I'm the worst friend in the world," you would write that down. Then you'd think, "Wait a minute. That's thinking about things in a very all-or-nothing way and very perfectionistic thinking." Then you would write down a response to yourself like, "I'm not the worst friend in the world. I watched my friend's cat and watered her plants while she was on vacation. I made a mistake by missing her birthday. Mistakes are human. We all make them." Then you continue on with the next negative thought until you can't think of any more. It's weird how well this works. Something about just laying it out in black and white really makes a difference.
posted by MsMolly at 9:22 AM on July 7, 2005

I strongly recommend the book Feeling Good, by Burns, which speaks a lot to this subject. It's about Cognitive Therapy for depression, but I think you might find it useful.
posted by callmejay at 10:10 AM on July 7, 2005

My yoga teacher the other day addressed something similar. When she tries to do a complicated, difficult pose and starts to think "Oh, I can't do that," she gives it a beat, says (in her head) "Thank you for your opinion, but I'm going to try anyway," and continues on. The same way you would, to some extent, when dealing with a stupidly negative external critic.

I like it because it's funny and makes you realize how silly you sound, as well as recognizing that that voice isn't "your inner consciousness that knows all and therefore must be obeyed" but just your knee-jerk fear.

It does go along with the Buddhist idea that our thoughts aren't the deepest expression of our souls but often merely random reactions to stimuli and mostly based on fear. You don't always have to listen to them.
posted by occhiblu at 11:11 AM on July 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you for your insights, everyone! And keep them coming. :)
posted by sugarfish at 12:55 PM on July 7, 2005

Silence him? He's my best friend.

I let him conn the ship, and occasionally I even pass him the mic so he can criticize other people too.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:45 AM on July 8, 2005

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