“Actually, I’m doing my best!”

– talking to our inner critic

 

We all have a voice inside our heads, an internal monologue. For many people this is a friendly, kind voice but for others it is critical and bullying – this is called the inner critic and its strength can be harmful to our mental wellbeing. So, how can we challenge this negative self-talk and try to be more compassionate to ourselves?  

Time to Talk Day is on Thursday, 3 February – this is a chance to talk about our mental health struggles with someone we know and trust such as a close friend or family member, or simply to accept that we may be struggling to manage our inner critic.  

So, to help us start the conversation here are 6 things our inner critic may tell us and some tips for challenging these negative thoughts. Remember: thoughts are not facts and we can change our thought patterns with time and effort.  

 

1. I’m not worthy of help

One of the most profound and painful things the inner critic may tell us is that we do not deserve any help or support. But if you feel that you are struggling and have been putting up with feeling low or anxious for a while, then try to remind yourself that you deserve to feel happier and to get the help you need. One way of doing this is thinking about how you would talk to a friend. If someone you are close to said: “I am really struggling at the moment, I think I might need some support”, it is unlikely you would say: “but you seem fine, you don’t need help”. So, try to talk to yourself with the same compassion. This can be easier said than done and takes some practice – one way to begin is to write down the negative thoughts and then try to respond to them in a more positive way as if you are talking to a friend.   

 

2. My needs aren’t as important as those of others

This is a common negative thought and can be a barrier to receiving help because we are concerned with taking up people’s time as we do not feel we are important enough. But the truth is our feelings are valid and deserve to be recognised, just as much as anyone else. One way of challenging this is by reflecting on how you feel, perhaps through journaling your thoughts and feelings, and acknowledging they are important and therefore worthy of support. Remember that comparing ourselves to others is rarely helpful and ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, it does not make us feel better.

 

3. I’m not good enough

The inner critic may tell you that you are not good enough and diminish your achievements. This can be challenged by trying to separate yourself from your inner critic and acknowledging that it is not you, but it is in fact a pattern of negative thinking that you can turn the volume down on. Again, you would not tell a friend or family member that they are not good enough, so try to tell your inner critic: “Actually, I think I have done well, and I am good enough” or “I’m doing my best!” 

 

4. Everything I attempt goes wrong

A perfect example of how the inner critic can make us very hard on ourselves is by convincing us we cannot do anything right. If you tend to judge yourself harshly, try talking to someone who can see things from a different perspective and can help you see your successes and achievements more objectively, however small.  

 

5. People are judging me

The notion that everyone around you is judging you and perceiving you in a negative light is another common negative thought. The inner critic can distort how we think, undermining our self-esteem and self-worth, which makes it hard to see things in a different, more positive light. Talking to someone can help us realise how differently other people see us and how they accept us for who we are.  

 

6. I should be different and doing better

‘Should’ is one of the inner critic’s favourite words, and just puts more pressure on us because we are always looking for the next thing, rather than reflecting on how we got to where we are. ‘Should’ is another way the inner critic judges us and tells us that we are not good enough or failing in some fundamental way. Try to counteract this by focusing on how far you have come and what you have achieved in terms of your wellbeing and successes along the way. Talking to someone might help you to identify these successes, and help you to silence the inner critic’s ‘shoulds’ and to be more mindful of the present.