What to Do When Your Inner Critic Is Extra Loud

By Chelsea Hetherington, Ph.D.
November 10, 2022

Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.

That’s never going to work. You’re going to fail. You should just give up now before you embarrass yourself.

Those might seem like the taunts of a high school bully or lines from the script of a comic book supervillain, but for many of us, they sound a lot like the messages dished up to us by our inner critic.

We all have an inner critic: that voice inside our heads that tells us we’re not smart enough, thin enough, or good enough. Our inner critic is the voice that holds us back and tells us not to bother trying because, well, we won't succeed anyway.

And no matter how much inner work you’ve done, whether it's developing a mindfulness practice, going to therapy, or simply making a concerted effort to be kinder to yourself, that internal naysayer can still pop out at the worst time and pick at our every insecurity.

Although your inner doubts may most often creep in as a stealthy whisper, there are times when your inner critic may be extra loud, like when you’re gearing up to try something new. What can you do to quiet that unkind voice in your head when it's clamoring for your attention? Try these strategies.

Take Some Space

Instead of seeing your inner critic as a part of you, create some distance from it by visualizing it as a separate being from yourself. Imagine yourself sitting in a chair across from your inner critic. Create a vision or image of what this being looks like; maybe your inner critic resembles a small cartoonish goblin, or maybe it’s closer to a “mean girl” school bully.

Spend time visualizing your inner critic in great detail. What does it look like? What does its voice sound like? How big or small is it? Go into as much detail as possible.

Creating this distance can help you better see your inner critic as something separate from yourself that does not have control over you. You might even find that the image you create disarms your inner critic into something silly or harmless that has a little less power.

Write It Out

Journaling is a great way to get your thoughts out in a safe, nonjudgmental space. Writing about your emotions and experiences, whether you do it in a journal, using the notes app on your phone, or a notepad you keep in your bag, may have several mental health benefits, like boosting mood, reducing depressive symptoms, improving working memory, and more, according to multiple studies. It may also help you understand your inner critic a little bit better—and finally make peace with it.

Spend some time challenging your inner critic. Try thinking through questions like, What does my inner critic want for me? and What is my inner critic afraid of? You could also spend some time thinking and writing about situations where your inner critic tends to pipe up. Does it make an appearance before work presentations or when you go into a social situation that may make you uncomfortable?

You may find that your inner critic has some fear of failure or vulnerability and is trying to protect you from that. This can help you view it with compassion—as something that’s trying to keep you safe from harm rather than something that’s trying to sabotage you. Feeling compassion and care toward your inner critic can be another way to disarm it and practice some self-compassion.

Still, it’s important to refrain from yielding too much space or listening to your inner critic’s criticism. Think about viewing it with the same care you’d have for a toddler throwing a temper tantrum over not getting what they want: You can feel compassion and recognize their fears without believing that the messages they’re sharing are true.

Talk Back

Remember the journaling you did in the previous exercise. How can you counter what your inner critic is afraid of? How can you provide it (and yourself) some reassurance? Ask yourself, What would I want to say to my inner critic?

Think of a phrase that can become a mantra that you say to yourself when your inner voice is especially loud, like “I’m safe,” or “I’m okay.” Try saying the phrase out loud to yourself when you feel your inner critic popping up.

If your inner critic is being especially loud and you feel your thoughts racing, interrupt it by saying “Stop!” or “Not helpful!” out loud. It might feel a bit silly at first, but this kind of self-talk and thought stopping is part of an evidence-based therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Recognize That Thoughts Are Just Thoughts

Another principle of CBT is changing thoughts to change behavior—and remembering that our thoughts are often not rooted in reality but in negative past experiences. When your inner critic is overwhelming you with negative thoughts, tell yourself, “This is just a thought.” It doesn’t have any power over you, and it doesn’t mean that the thought is true. Observe the thought and visualize it floating away, like a balloon into the sky or a leaf flowing down a river.

Your inner critic may become loud at different times in your life, but with some coping mechanisms in your back pocket, you can gently tell it to quiet down, practice self-compassion, and fill your head with more positive thinking.

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