Talking Back to the Critical Voice Inside

10/11/2010 12:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Jane Shure Leadership Coach, Psychotherapist, Author, Speaker

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to focus on the negative voice within -- the voice that stirs up anxiety by questioning, "Why didn't you?" Out of nowhere, I can be hit hard with a critical thought targeting me. It's like one of those automatic pop ups on the computer screen, setting off an electrical impulse, alerting me to be afraid that I've done something wrong.

Recently I was in my kitchen cooking dinner. I wasn't overly stressed or tired, but out of the blue I heard an agitating voice from within saying, "Why didn't you?" Stunned, I found myself, talking back out loud, "Why didn't I what? What is it that I didn't do?" Unable to come up with anything, I realized that it was my habitual, reactive mind at work. In this case, it was an automatic critical voice trying to get me to feel bad about myself, for no apparent reason.

The Inner Critic tells us how flawed and defective we are, how someone else could do it better and how much of a disappointment we are. It cuts us down in size and brings on defeat. It's powerful, but remember that its power can be diminished. When we become alert to our own judgments and thinking, we can slow down our thinking and talk back with a different voice, a voice that has the ability to argue and dispute. It's the voice of an internal coach.

In dealing with this, be mindful. Mindfulness helps us develop the ability to notice our Inner Critic when it chimes in. We're guaranteed that it will get set off for one reason or another and rear its ugly head. The critical inner voice originated in childhood when our instinct was to shrink in response to feeling belittled or insecure. Over time self-criticism becomes a habitual pattern held in place by the intricate mechanics of the brain. We are all under the influence.

That night in the kitchen, a clear minded voice came to my defense, helping me shine a spotlight on the harsh critic, putting the negative, blaming voice right where it needed to be. Many people hope and pray that their Inner Critic will become reformed and acquire reasonable standards. Not so. Remember, your critical voice is rooted in early self development and is one of the most primitive parts of the emotional mind. There's no reforming the Inner Critic. Instead, we need to feed and listen to a different voice within, the one rooted in an adult perspective, able to be supportive, reasonable and compassionate. With mindfulness as our guide, we can learn to pay attention and notice this more grownup voice and we can use it to become more courageous and self-confident.

To read more about the Inner Critic, go to and