How to manage the inner critic

How to manage the inner critic

It is not uncommon that when we make a mistake, or when we are facing a difficult situation, some critical thoughts come to our mind causing us frustration and can lower our mood as we feel dissatisfied with ourselves. We may criticise ourselves because we have not met our standards, or we worry that others might evaluate us negatively. 

Sometimes it is our perfectionistic tendencies, that motivate us to strive for unrealistic standards to the point that we can become stressed. If it goes on for a prolonged time, it can affect our health and reduce our sense of wellbeing.

To manage our frustration and self-critical voice, we can develop self-compassion. Neff (2011) has researched the benefits of self-compassion for our health and wellbeing. This approach is not about being selfish, lazy or that we are lowering our standards. Instead, it promotes that by being kind to ourselves and accepting of our mistakes, we can help us to put things in perspective and restore balance. 

It is a way of reducing tension so that we can take time to identify what are the themes underlying our concerns, as this will allow us to think more clearly what we need to do to deal with the situation. 

Neff (2011) says we already have the skills to practise self-compassion. We already know how to be kind to our friends. We can identify when they are feeling distressed, and we feel moved to support them. We are kind and understanding when they are in trouble, we offer a listening ear, and we help in whatever way we can.

We see them for who they are, including their faults, because we appreciate them for who they are. However, we are not very good at doing the same for ourselve. We are more demanding of ourselves, as if we should be able to stop our thoughts and feelings and judge ourselves harshly for our inadequacies and limitations. 

The key element is to become aware of our humanity and acknowledge that we are valuable as we are. This perspective is useful not just for us, but for those around us. The more we can understand ourselves, the more we can understand others. Self-compassion also helps us to feel connected to other human beings – we are all part of this world. It helps us become aware of the present moment so that we can live in it. Life is happening moment by moment. 

Self-compassion enables us to strengthen our inner resources, builds our resilience, and it allows us to be more present in our lives. It helps us to accept the things that we cannot control, and as we accept this reality, we learn to develop emotional balance as we come to terms with our vulnerability that we share with all humanity.

Strategies to restore balance

1. Pay attention to the present moment: take a moment to pause, and observe your environment, relax your muscles and take a deep breath. Notice your thoughts, without judgment, and then let them go by without attaching to them.

2.  Reframe your thoughts: once you notice the thoughts about a specific situation that is concerning you. Often, we do not have all the information, and we tend to jump to conclusions. Then, pause and consider other ways in which you could view the situation.

3. Be your best friend: treat yourself with kindness and understanding as you would treat your best friend. It may be that things are not working out as you hoped, or that you made mistakes. What matters is to acknowledge these, without self-criticism, and then focus on what you can do to improve or change things for the better.



Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.

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