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What is the Inner Critic? 10 Tips on how to Challenge and Manage Self-Doubt and Low Self-Esteem

The inner critic is a psychological concept that refers to the voice inside your head that criticises and evaluates your actions, thoughts, and behaviours. It's the part of you that might say you're not good enough, clever enough, or that you'll never succeed. Basically, it's the voice that puts you down.


This voice is a product of your experiences, beliefs, and societal influences as you grow up. It is shaped by past traumas, expectations, and your own insecurities. It can protect you and keep you safe, however, it can also be harsh leading to self-doubt and low self-esteem.


Here are some contributing factors to the development of the inner critic:


  • Childhood experiences: critical parenting styles, bullying or trauma can lead the individual to believe negative messages and beliefs about themselves.


  • Perfectionism: on the surface this can look like the pursuit of excellence, however underneath it can be driven by low self-esteem. Perfectionists tend to be harshly self-critical when they perceive they have not met their own or others’ unrealistic standards. There is the constant feeling of pressure to perform at this level leading to feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome.


  • Fear of Failure and Rejection: The fear of failure or rejection/disapproval can give voice to the inner critic. This can lead to feeling discouraged and less inclined to take on new challenges or opportunities in the future.


  • Societal and cultural influences: high expectations are placed on the individual from external sources such as family, friends, peers, and/or the media. Internalised messages give rise to harsh self-judgement undermining self-esteem and confidence.


Learning to understand and manage our inner critic can help us to feel better about ourselves and be kinder to ourselves.  Here are some ways to challenge and manage that voice, distinguishing between constructive feedback and destructive self-talk.


1.     Awareness and Recognition. The first step is to recognise when you are having these critical thoughts and doubting yourself. Being aware of this can help you address it. You could say to yourself, “here is the inner critic, doing what it always does…”


2.     Distance Yourself from the Critical Voice: Can you say, “I am having the thought that….”  That means you are not telling yourself that you are not good enough or clever enough, you are having the thought that you are not good enough or clever enough.


3.     Challenge Negative Thoughts.  Is there evidence to support these thoughts?  Are they based on assumptions or past experiences?  Do you believe these thoughts?  What emotions come up for you? Can you reframe these thoughts with more realistic and believable positive thoughts? 


4.     Reframe failure: Instead of viewing failure as a reflection of your incompetence, try and see it as an opportunity for growth and learning.  Every setback is a chance to acquire new skills, insights, and resilience that will ultimately contribute to your success.


5.     Self-compassion. If your friend had negative thoughts, what advice would you give them?  Would you be so hard on them?  Remember that things don’t always go the way you planned and that’s ok. Growth comes from rising to the challenge and taking the risk.  Even if there is perceived failure, what positives can you take from the experience?  Can you big yourself up for trying?


6.     Stop Being the Judge! You are unique. Allow yourself to focus on your own progress and growth and not the negative effects of comparison. If you are still comparing yourself, go back to number 3 and challenge your comparison.


7.     Manage Expectations.  Aim for things you know you can achieve and enjoy the wins. Be realistic. Break tasks into small and perhaps more manageable goals.


8.     Practice Gratitude: Cultivate a mindset of gratitude by recognising what you are good at and what makes you stand out. Highlight positive outcomes, even if they feel small. It’s so easy to focus on the negatives, give the positives some oxygen for a change.


9.     Choose Support: Do you allow yourself to ask for help? Do you choose people around you who make you feel good about yourself? A strong support system can help counteract the effects of your inner critic.


10. Where do you feel it: When you are feeling positive, where do you feel it in your body? What does it feel like? Allow yourself to enjoy that feeling and try and recognise it when it resurfaces, no matter how small or large the achievement.


Challenging the critical voice takes time and is an ongoing journey filled with ups and downs. Starting with these ten insights, you can cultivate resilience, confidence, and authenticity in the face of self-doubt. Remember, you are more capable and deserving than you are giving yourself credit for. Embrace this path towards growth and fulfilment and allow yourself to celebrate your successes along the way.

Lucy is a psychotherapist working remotely via zoom

+44 7787 283895


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