When we're young and growing, for most of us, our parents are there to show us the difference between right and wrong. They show us, based on their perceptions, the acceptable social behaviors, emotional responses, and moral consistencies that help us navigate through life. Through this mental evolution, and through the process of "disappointing" our parents, many of us associate making mistakes with pain and shame. Through the action of our parents telling us our natural human instincts (or behaviors/responses etc.), were "wrong", and depending on the level of parental skill involved, we can feel there is perhaps something inevitably, internally wrong with us, and so our inner critic is born. That inner critic, that voice inside our heads, starts as a defense mechanism, to tell us we're erring before other people get around to telling us.
One of the problems with the inner critic is that it can become our constant companion through adulthood. It tells us such things as we're not good enough, that we must prepare for and expect the worst in all situations, that we'll pay for our mistakes, and that we might as well not try since we'll probably fail anyway. It shows up when we're feeling tired, down, or threatened, and oftentimes, it's much harsher than those original external voices that shaped it - as the saying goes, we're our own worst critic. And so begins the cycle of second-guessing, shutting down, or ignoring our natural human selves. We punish ourselves emotionally (or physically with addictions), by denying our true selves, and then often blame everything and everyone external for the way we're causing ourselves to feel.
Steps to Relinquish Your Inner Critic
1. Firstly, recognize this inner voice as an add-on to your actual self. It's a voice within you, but it is not who you are, and cannot define you unless you let it. It can be very difficult to distinguish this fact - but the voice is a culmination of all the authority figures you encountered through your growth: parents, teachers, older siblings, religious leaders, or even friends who appeared to be leaders. The longer and more often you listen to this voice, the stronger and more real it appears.
2. Make a note of what this voice says, and try to write it down. By looking at it on paper and outside your head, you can create the separation needed between it and your true self. Does it call you names, and are there particular themes that are repeated and obsessed with? Where do these "recordings" come from? Can you trace them back to particular people? This is all necessary in identifying the difference between you and your inner critic. Most of the time, seeing these negative thoughts on paper shows us how out of proportion and absurdly childish they are.
3. As you become conscious of your inner critic, you can begin to reprogram it. Remember you've spent many years listening to a negative voice, so to change your thought patterns, it's going to take some time, consistency, and determination to make real and lasting changes. As adults, however, we (hopefully) have the benefit of more experiential logic and common sense than we did as kids, to keep us grounded and focused through the process. Exchange the negative voices for positive ones, even if you don't believe them at first. You'll find that positivity resonates much clearer once you get the hang of it - focus on your strengths.
4. Sometimes this inner voice is identifying something about yourself that you'd like to change. When you take away the initial childhood hurt that's triggered by the voice, is there any truth in it? Instead of reacting emotionally, if we step back, go deeper, and recognize our responsibility in the matter, we can then make positive changes. Doing something positive for yourself and your life, and in turn, others, diminishes the things your inner critic has to talk about. You'll then be able to make way for the only voice you need to listen to - the one who knows, understands, and is capable of deciding what's best for you - you.