Dealing with The Inner Critic

Most everyone I’ve ever worked with has shared with me some variation of, “I’m very hard on myself.” At face value this sounds like a person with high standards and important goals. Dig a little deeper and what we usually find is an unfairly judgmental and rejecting inner critic for whom very little is acceptable.

The critic never makes mention of what’s good, only what could have been done better. It’s the voice that tells us we failed because it wasn’t “good enough”) and it wasn’t good enough because it wasn’t perfect). We readily (and usually subconsciously) relate to ourselves in ways we’d consider completely unacceptable to treat another person.

I see it as the best possible form of hypocrisy. We have two perspectives, two sets of standards, two ways of judging: One for ourselves and one for everyone else on the planet. Most folks go through their whole lives without ever reconciling this.

I encourage folks to use the Golden Rule in Reverse: Treat yourself the way you treat others. If you wouldn’t speak to someone else that way then don’t talk to you that way.

I don’t like touchy feely therapy, so the last thing I’m going to tell you is to love yourself (that’s an ideal we work toward not something we can turn on a dime and do). I say pay attention, be fair to you, and try to notice when you’re putting pressure on yourself.

“…I don’t know what stressed me first
or how the pressure was fed
but I know just what it feels like
to have a voice in the back of my head” – Linkin Park “Papercut”

If you aren’t familiar with your inner critic, notice the first thought that comes to you the next time you screw up. It’s the voice that yells things like, “How could I be so stupid?”

For most of us, the critic’s voice is not our own. It’s something we internalized – some disapproving or perfectionistic authority figure(s): parents, teachers, coaches, bosses (the usual suspects). In our ongoing quest to be “good enough” we put enormous pressure on ourselves to do things as well as they can possibly be done. This is unmanageable, exhausting, and most of all, it’s a set up.

I set the bar sky high. I clear it. Do I feel good? Nope. All I did was exactly what I expected of myself. The only way I know to feel good is when I surpass expectations. When the expectation is perfection, I’m wanting to go beyond that which is already unattainable.

We live as though we have something to prove. We seek to earn things that should only be freely given (acceptance, love, approval). We’re very good at getting folks to appreciate us for what we do. What we most want is for people to appreciate us for who we are. In the absence of self acceptance, this is nothing more than an unattainable idea.

Self acceptance doesn’t require feeling good about ourselves, in fact, the inverse is true. I could not become the person I most wanted to be before accepting myself exactly as I was. I choose to judge and relate to myself today in the same manner I do others. I expect a lot of me, but I have found I can attain far more through self acceptance than I ever could being self critical.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.