Dealing with your Inner Critic

In my work with people on how to stop complaining, we always get to a point where they ask, “I get how to control what I say, but how do I stop complaining about myself? How do I shut up this voice in my head?”

Just about everyone I know struggles with an inner critic, no matter how “enlightened” or “growth-oriented” they are. Often, this voice is the meanest one that we’ll put up with, the one that speaks and reinforces our core fears and insecurities, the one that makes us feel small, inadequate, and unworthy. If a person talked with us like the inner critic does, we’d get infuriated and stand up for ourselves, maybe even haul off and punch them in the face. But since it’s inside of us, we don’t stand up, we collapse.

I’m sorry to say that I have no secret that will swiftly and permanently silence that inner critic. But I can offer some tools that I’ve learned to help disempower mine, making it less able to hurt me, enabling me to recover more quickly.

The first and most important tool I learned was to think of that voice as separate from me so that I can start to respond to it. It’s a technique that I know many others use and is foundational for everything else I’ll talk about here. Some people do this by picturing their inner critic sitting in a chair across from them. Others create a mental picture of their brain or body and find the location of the source of the voice somewhere in or around it. Others name the critic. Choose whatever works for you to get a little distance on your inner critic. This is also something that often works best when you have help, such as working with a coach, therapist, or someone like that.

Next step is to respond when the critic shows up. The nature of that response varies greatly, based on your own levels of emotions and what the critic is saying.

Some take a strong protective stance. They get stern and loud, yelling “Shut Up! No one talks to me like that!” Sometimes this can feel necessary, particularly the first time you talk back at it when it’s shaming you and hurting you deeply. It can be very cathartic, finally standing up to a bully that’s been tearing you down your entire life.

That technique feels great for me to stop a heated attack from my inner critic, but it doesn’t work as well in a lasting way to get it to stop showing up in the first place. For that, I’ve learned to become understanding of what my inner critic is trying to do, and grateful for the love it’s showing me. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve learned that mine is often trying to protect me from getting hurt. It’s afraid that I’ll get ostracized or criticized and it’s trying to stop that from happening. It’s carrying the memory of childhood times when I felt like an outsider and was hurt by it. My inner critic hates to see me cry. I can feel so much love coming from it in those moments. I have conversations with it where I thank it for loving me enough to protect me – and I make sure that I feel that thanks, not just say it. Then I gently remind it that those are old memories and old hurts and I point out that I’m all grown up now. I tell it that I’m stronger and that I have to take some risks in order to grow even more, that I know I’m likely to get hurt and I’m ok with that. I ask it to trust me, to believe I’ll figure out a way to recover. I also tell it that I don’t like that language, that I no longer respond to someone tearing me down, that I won’t listen to it if it’s mean. I know that I once believed things more if they were mean, but I no longer tolerate it.

Lastly, I thank my inner critic for holding out a dream for me. I can hear frustration and disappointment underneath the words – and I know that it wouldn’t feel these things if it had no expectations or hopes for me. It’s only because of those expectations that it can feel disappointment.

My shorthand reminder:

Every time you beat yourself up for not being the person you want to be, take a moment and thank yourself for having the ability to dream of a greater future for yourself.

I hope that this helps, and I’d love to hear your own techniques for dealing with your inner critic. Leave me a comment or a question and let me know your thoughts. Let’s all face down our inner critics and start engaging with the love and dreams we carry around inside us instead!

Cianna P. Stewart is Founder of the No Complaining Project and a resilience coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also spends a lot of time producing events and dancing. Connect with Cianna on Google+.


  1. Lauren Fire (@LawLifeBalance)

    Great advice Cianna! We can all use this reminder. I find that it helps to remind myself that the voice isn’t the truth, and it’s not actually the way to get the best out of myself. When I motivate myself with guilt or shame – it just doesn’t work. But when I try to find a better way of motivating myself, like with inspiration and desire, everything gets easier.

  2. cianna

    Thank you, Lauren! I love your approach. That’s closely related to something I do: Asking, “Is that true?” or “How do I/you know that’s true?” in response to e.g., statements of “fact,” like “They all hate me” or “I know I’m going to fail” or “I could never do that.” That’s a powerful reminder! Thanks!

  3. Mau

    Loved this post, Cianna!! Especially the part when you held a conversation with the voice, and FELT thankful for its protection. Beautiful!! 🙂

  4. cianna

    Thank you, Mau! I’m glad it resonated with you. That “feeling” part is key!

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