The Critical Inner Voice

Critical Inner Voice (CIV)

Most of us have nagging thoughts and doubts that increase our nervousness and interfere with our performance at various times; this is called the critical inner voice, (CIV).

What is the Critical Inner Voice?

It can be thought of as the language of the defensive process.

  •  “Listening” to the voice, or believing what it says leads to self-limiting behavior and negative consequences.
  •   This stream of destructive thoughts forms an anti-self that discourages individuals from acting in their best interest.
  •   The critical inner voice is an internal dialogue, a harsh and judgmental way of talking to ourselves and it can become habitual.
  •   It is evident in those little everyday thoughts that flit through our consciousness: “You idiot, why did you say that? Now everyone will think you are stupid.”
  •   The CIV often takes the form of an on-going commentary in our head that interprets events and interactions in ways that cause us pain and distress.

If we are viewing life through the negative filter of the CIV, life may look bleak and gloomy.  If, on the other hand, our view of life is unfiltered and clear, free of the voice’s interference, the same situation or event may look bright and optimistic to us.  For this reason, events that happen to us are often not the main cause of our upset.  Trouble usually arises from the incidents being interpreted through the CIV.  For example, when we are seeing ourselves from this perspective, we feel self-critical or demoralized if we make a mistake, no matter how small or unimportant.  At these times, we exaggerate the consequences of our mistakes and tell ourselves that we will continue to fail.  We may even tell ourselves that we will never succeed at anything we try and that we should give up altogether.

How to Change the Impact of the CIV:

As you become more aware of this internal enemy, you can come to understand what is actually happening when you find yourself being self-critical and seeing things in a negative way.  This understanding is the first step toward change.  Once you recognize the destructive influence of the CIV, you can choose to ignore what’s it says and live life from a more realistic point of view.

  • Recognize what triggers your critical inner voice: One of the most effective strategies for challenging the CIV is becoming aware of situations and experiences that typically trigger it. When you find yourself slipping into a bad mood or becoming upset, think about what happened to change your way of thinking.
  • When criticism triggers your critical inner voice: Your critical inner voice is often triggered by criticism or feedback even when it is constructive information offered by friends, family members, co-workers, or employers. It appears that all of us are much more sensitive to feedback when it fits in with specific negative attitudes we already have about ourselves.
  • Identifying your critical inner voice: Simply recognizing that you are involved in a process of self-attack is valuable in challenging the voice.
  • Keeping a Journal: Keeping a journal can be an effective tool for helping to identify and challenge your CIV.

Silence the CIV:

Whatever the trigger mechanism for our CIV is, it’s always there to distract from any potential sense of calm. When we allow our negative thoughts to take over, we spend precious energy handling the symptoms of stress instead of solving the problem or dealing with what’s really making us feel such pressure or worry.

To fully rid oneself of the CIV, it’s important to stand up to these negative thoughts. Putting our voice in the second person can help us make this initial separation.  For example, try writing down your critical thoughts, first as “I” statements, then as “you” statements. If you have thoughts of feeling stupid, write down “You are so stupid.”

Next, stand up to this internal enemy by writing down responses to your critical thoughts with the more realistic perspective of a compassionate friend. For example, you could write, “I am not stupid. Anyone can make a mistake. I have a lot of areas in which I am intelligent and confident.” The intention here is not to build yourself up, but to gain a more realistic view of yourself.

Dealing with stress means taking our own side without feeling like a victim. It means empowering ourselves against our inner critic and not allowing that critic to dictate our lifestyle.

That critic will put up a fuss when we act against it and cause us anxiety over the changes we make in our lives. However, the more we persevere and the longer these negative voices in our heads are challenged & silenced, the better able we are to live in the moment without worrying about the past or the future. We can then deal with everything in our lives one moment, one step, one deep breath and one thought at a time.

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