Challenging your ‘Mind Bully’ - the Inner Critical Voice

We are all familiar with that nagging voice which surfaces sometimes, expressing doubts about our character or ability. Unfortunately, this voice is not an encouraging one but an internal critic, which points out past failures and predicts the future in a negative light, often causing us to limit ourselves and become less likely to reach our potential.

In some cases, this voice can be bullying and unpleasant – our own ‘mind bully’, which punishes rather than praises.

This internal critic is developed from childhood when we take on the attitudes of significant others around us and start to internalise them.

When we are born, we enter the world with a clean slate and without preconceived beliefs. We are impressionable and look for meaning in almost everything because we are naturally inquisitive. Our parents and environment play a big part in moulding our beliefs from a very young age. Our school environment and our friends also play an important part.

Because we are unable to discern between truth and falsehood when we are really young, we often accept what we are told as truth. We are also greatly influenced by what we experience. As a result, the views of that teacher, for example, who says you will never make anything of yourselves, becomes the truth; the parent who says you are not as clever as your sibling, becomes your reality.

So how do you challenge the Inner Critical Voice?

  • Start to really listen to your thoughts and identify what your inner critic is telling you.
  • Separate from the voice by using ‘YOU’ instead of ‘I’ – this helps you to distance yourself from it and it may well become clear as to where these statements come from.
  • Think about where these attacks have come from – think about your experiences and influences. For example, your childhood, comments from teachers or friends.
  • Answer back using ‘I’ statements, being more realistic or compassionate.
  • Stop acting on your inner critic’s bad advice – once you recognise your parent/friend/teacher’s voices, it becomes easier to realise that these words reflect their opinions, not yours – and do not reflect your reality at all. You can simply give them back.

Exploring an example:

 “I am a complete waste of space. I’ll never amount to anything”

  • Change I to you: “You’re are a complete waste of space. You’ll never amount to anything”
  • This makes it easier to identify where it came from. Have you heard these phrases before? Who said them? Did you deserve them? Even if you feel that you did, is life exactly the same now? Is it helpful for you in terms of moving on?
  • Use I statements which are more helpful/realistic/compassionate.
  • For example: “I’ve made some mistakes and perhaps not reached my potential. That wasn’t all my fault and I did my best with the information I had at the time.”
  • “I made some poor choices. But I’ve learned a lot from those and I know more how to avoid them now”
  • “That doesn’t mean that I have to keep doing that. I have a choice from here on in.”
  • Become aware of how your inner critic is limiting you – how would it feel to have an encouraging voice instead of a critical one?

When you are challenging your inner critic, remember to ask the following questions:

  • Is it true?
  • Where does it come from?
  • Does it tell the whole story?
  • What would be a more balanced opinion?
  • Is it doing you any good?
  • Is it limiting you?
  • What could you say as an alternative?
  • What would life be like if your inner voice was encouraging instead of critical?