Imagine a theater critic watching a play or musical. The critic is, perhaps, sitting off to the side, unnoticed and scribbling in a notebook. The job requires making judgments about what works and what doesn’t work in the performance. Are the costumes appropriate to the show and are they well made? Do all of the actors know their lines, or is someone constantly pausing to remember what to say next? Does the set help tell the story? Do all the microphones and lights come on and go off when they are supposed to?
After the show, a critic takes those notes and writes up a review. The review may be positive, negative, or somewhere in the middle. Most critics will take care to be as objective and fair as possible, even when pointing out flaws in a production. And once the review appears in the paper or online, the people producing the play can take it or leave it depending on whether they agree with the critic’s analysis. The critic isn’t part of the theater company, after all.
Now imagine the inner critic we all have in our heads. You know the one. The one who says you will never get promoted at work. The one who says you will never change your eating habits or stick to an exercise program. The one who says it is pointless to try to meet new people because none of your relationships ever last. The one who says you will never overcome your substance use disorder.
The one who almost never has anything good to say about you. How are you supposed to deal with that inner critic?
Remember: Your Inner Critic Is You
In our example above, we noted that a theater critic’s opinions may or may not be taken to heart by the actors, directors, and technicians who are the subject of the review. That’s because the critic is a third party offering an opinion—one possible opinion among many.
Our inner critic, however, is not a third party. Your inner critic is, to put it simply, you. You are the one who is telling yourself what you can and cannot accomplish. You are the one allowing past missteps to define your present and future. You are the one passing judgment on yourself. That practice—which is so very common—is called negative self-talk, and it can be devastating to our self-confidence and self-esteem.
That might seem discouraging. After all, if you are your own worst critic, how can anything get better? You can’t stop being you, right?
Maybe not, but you can change your relationship to your inner critic—that is your relationship with yourself—in a number of significant and helpful ways.
Calming Down the Inner Critic
There are a number of approaches you might take to quiet down your inner critic. For example, you might take up the practice of mindfulness, which encourages us to remember that we are not our thoughts or feelings. Mindfulness courses or online resources can help you quiet your mind and change your relationship to the comments of the inner critic.
Another approach might be to find a buddy or two who has a goal similar to one of your own. Let’s say, for example, that you have always wanted to write a mystery novel. You have an idea and maybe even a couple of chapters on paper. But you keep getting stuck, and that critic in your head is positive you will never reach your goal.
But what if you found a friend or two who also likes to write and you got together regularly to discuss your progress and hold each other accountable? The voice of your inner critic just might get drowned out by the voices of your friends. This approach of mutual support and accountability is a powerful tool for a variety of goals ranging from health and fitness improvement to learning a new skill for career development or recreation.
You might even consider giving your inner critic a name. Perhaps something a bit whimsical or silly like, say, Isherwood (that happens to be the last name of an influential theater critic). By naming the voice that is constantly criticizing you, you separate yourself from it just a little in a way similar to what is accomplished through mindfulness practice. Having the option to mentally say, “Shut up, Isherwood!” may be just what you need to quiet your negative self-talk.
From Critic to Cheerleader: Changing the Inner Narrative
Ideally, you will replace that negative self-talk with positive thoughts and internal commentary. Perhaps you would benefit from daily affirmations. Maybe you can do a better job of controlling your tendency to assume the worst in many (or even most) situations—a mindset known as catastrophizing. Or perhaps you learn to give yourself more grace—the same grace you might extend to others—when things go wrong. Setbacks are part of life, but if you can convince your inner critic to become an inner cheerleader, you will be better able to address and overcome those setbacks with confidence and a positive attitude.
We Will Help You Believe in You
Many substance use disorders can likely be traced back to ongoing negative self-talk. Maybe you have turned to drugs or alcohol in an effort to quiet the voice in your head that constantly criticizes you. At The Aviary Recovery Center, we understand. Through personalized and compassionate care, we will help you overcome your addiction as well as your inner critic. Everyone at The Aviary believes in you and your future. We’ll help you believe in yourself and the better future on the horizon, too.