The Inner Critic

Bill Abbate

How well do you know yourself? Do you realize there is something inside you that determines your future? Imagine how valuable it would be to learn more about this something. It is such an influential part of yourself, even a little knowledge of it can be a major life-changer.

What is it? Read on to find out!

Who are you?

Are you aware of the internal chatter that regularly occurs in your mind? If so, you have probably run into the part of yourself known as the “inner critic.” It is very real, and neuroscience has much to say about it.

Think about this — is your worst enemy somewhere out there, or is it in you? Who could be a worse enemy than you in the form of this inner critic with its impossibly high standards?

This critic has been with you much of your life, and you are stuck with it, but you do not have to cede control to it.

As the character Pogo once said:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly (1913–1973)

Yes, this part of each of us can hold us back, keeping us from becoming more of who we can become. It imparts self-imposed limitations. From where does this part of us come? Let’s try to make sense of it all.

Making sense of internal voices

What goes on in your thoughts that no one else can see? The doubts, fears, cares, concerns, good, bad, and the ugly. Each is a part of who you are. Each expands or restricts your life.

As I age, I’ve come to see these parts of myself in new ways. I was unaware of them for much of my life, unable to see or stop them. I did not realize they existed until I learned of them from someone else.

As I began developing the ability to see these parts of myself, to think about and reflect on them, I started to take steps to change them.

Over time I developed control over these thoughts rather than being controlled by them.

A few years back, a shift happened in my thinking. While I had viewed some parts of myself as “the enemy,” I came to see them for what they were. Most have been with me since I was a child. They are just parts of me that have not matured well.

Before I learned about this concept, a part of me feared public speaking because I heard my inner critic tell me I wasn’t good enough. It was like a child crying “Wolf!” when there was none.

This part of me had not grown up and continued to voice its concerns. I understand now that this inner critic hindered my progress. But why? Why did this part of me do what it did? More on this in a moment.

Please note I use “voice” and “part” interchangeably throughout this article.

Hearing voices

Let’s extend this concept further. We have several voices that “speak” to us and affect our life. Have you ever “heard” your mother or someone else saying in your mind, “you shouldn’t do that,” or your spouse in your head saying, “I would not buy that if I were you.”

Such voices can manifest themselves in a thousand ways. Some people will say it is their conscience speaking to them, which may well be. After all, our conscience is affected by those influential people and events in our lives.

Nonetheless, a great deal of research on inner voices exists. You can find whole systems of therapy based on them. Check out the latest research by simply doing an internet search on internal voices and neuroscience. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Some of these voices, especially those known as our inner critic(s), say things like, “You can’t do that,” “You’re not qualified to accomplish anything like that,” or “If you do that, you will make a fool of yourself.” They will also tell you, “You don’t have the education that so-and-so does, so what makes you think you can do something like that?” or “You may fail if you try that.”

I have found that many of my voices trace back to a younger Bill Abbate, often from my childhood or young adult years. I despised these voices when I first learned of them. I was angry that I would allow myself to tell myself such nonsense. But I now see them differently. For what they are.

Instead of thinking of my critical inner voices as destructive and condescending, I now understand how they came from a part of me that once served a purpose. While I have outgrown them and no longer need them, they still exist.

As I examined these voices, I realized many came from fear. These younger, underdeveloped parts of me were only trying to protect me. They wanted to keep me from experiencing hurt, failure, embarrassment, etc. In their own way, they tried to serve and protect me.

Become the critic’s master

“Low self-esteem results when the inner critic prevails.” Catherine Cardinal (1953-present)

Before I could see these parts of myself, I regularly fell prey to their input. When they warned or criticized me, I listened and often allowed them to control my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

What’s a person to do when part of his brain unwittingly tries to sabotage their future?

First, you must recognize these voices exist and understand you have been subject to them. Yes, you have been their subject, and they have been your master. You accepted their control over you. Now that you know this, you no longer need to remain in this position.

Instead of being subject to them, make them subject to you. Become their master!

When you understand these voices for what they are, you take away their power and control. When I finally understood what my inner critic had been doing, creating self-imposed limitations and doubts, I positioned myself to conquer them! When you see them clearly, you, too, can easily conquer yours!

The worst thing my inner critic “made” me do was impose limits on myself. I now know these self-limiting beliefs are real. I have yet to meet a person that doesn’t have some.

Uncovering the root

What are the sources of such self-defeating thoughts? Let’s do a little exercise to unearth as many as possible. Recall what people have said to you, especially in your early life. Imagine what they would say to represent their attitude toward you if you don’t have a clear memory of their words.

Take your time doing this work, and you will find it pays huge dividends!


Ask yourself:

“What do I believe each of the following has said about me?”

  • Parent(s)
  • Sibling(s)
  • Teacher(s)
  • Spouse
  • Boss(es)
  • Colleague(s)
  • Friend(s)
  • Society in general
  • Yourself

For example, did anyone ever tell you you were stupid or not smart? Did anyone ever say you are skinny, fat, short, ugly, or make other such derogatory remarks? What have others said to put you down in any way? Do you get the message from society or acquaintances that you are not good enough, don’t have enough drive, are not good-looking, don’t make enough money, don’t own a home, have a cheap car, etc.? These are only a few examples of where your critical inner thoughts can originate and embed in your subconscious. Do you hear any echoes of what was said to you? Are you still saying any of those things to yourself?

Pay attention to your inner voices, whether they originate from external or internal sources. I suggest you take some time in a quiet place with no interruptions and your journal to think deeply about the above question and how others have affected you. Unearth everything you can to see it clearly and take its power.

Taking control

“People become discouraged when they listen to their ‘inner critic’… Whatever that voice is saying, articulate a response, drawing from the part of you that feels strong and confident. Be your own cheerleader.” Lauren Mackler (1957-present)

A great way to use this information is to stop and examine your thinking whenever you tell yourself you can’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t do something. Ask yourself, “What voice is speaking to me, and from where does it come?

Do the same thing with negative thoughts, asking the same question, “What voice is speaking, and from where does it come?”

Once you identify the source, challenge it, and don’t stop challenging it until you understand and can refute it. It can be helpful to name the specific critic and to call it out by that name.

This method also applies to any fear or doubt you have. Don’t give up. Inquire within yourself and ask, “What CAN I do?” and follow it up with, “What WILL I do?”

Why is it important to recognize these sources? There is power in seeing and understanding where a voice originates because you can decide if its message is still valid or something left over from long ago.

After all, why should I allow a 7-year-old Bill Abbate, who tripped in a play still control me when I speak in public? And why should I still listen to a teacher tell me I couldn’t write when I was only ten? If I allowed these voices to go unchecked, there is little I can do about them. They controlled my thoughts, affected my emotions and behaviors, and were a source of much frustration until I recognized, refuted, and overcame them.

When you identify where a critical inner voice is coming from, you can choose whether to believe it or not. You can move from letting it control you to you controlling it. You can make a deliberate choice about what to do with the information you learn. Will you accept it, or will you stand your ground and reject it?

“Winning the war of words inside your soul means learning to defy your inner critic.” Steven Furtick (1980-present)

Final thoughts

You can become mindful of these voices in your head or mindlessly allow them to control you. Which do you prefer?

When you come to see your critical inner voices and begin thoughtfully examining them, your life will change. Do the mature thing and take responsibility for them. Reject those voices that no longer serve you, and the limitations they have placed in your life will disappear.

You now possess information that can change the entire course of your life. What do you choose to do with it? It’s your life and your choice alone. Choose wisely!

“The more we refuse to buy into our inner critics — and our external ones too — the easier it will get to have confidence in our choices, and to feel comfortable with who we are.” Arianna Huffington (1950-present)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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