Where Does The Inner Critic Come From?
FACT: Everyone has an inner critic. We could also call it an “inner bully”.
MORE FACTS: Inner thought bullies keep us stuck. As a result of being stuck, we miss out on taking risks and living our best life.
We All Have Behavior Issues
All people have behavior cycles that are a result of our mindset. It is part of being human. If we are willing, we can look and identify our thoughts that are at the foundation of both our successes and our failures.
Henry Ford said it perfectly when he said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right”. Our thinking process and habits will either propel us forward or they will keep us stuck, a victim of a fear based lying brain.
Let’s take a quick peek at the thought cycle that happens when we are bullying ourselves.
The Thought Cycle Of The Inner Critic (Bully)
We have a thought- THEN
We perceive an obstacle (real or imagined)- THEN
Inner Bully tells us that we aren’t enough (insert good, smart, skinny OR choose your own favorite lie to bully yourself)-THEN
Bully Brain provides evidence of our last failure/mistake/or highlights a flaw- THEN
The result? We believe our thought bully, and we accept defeat. Some of us never even try to challenge the inner critic, we live defeated and wonder why everyone else has all the luck. Do you happen to know someone like that? Me too.
Sound familiar? Of course, it does! Despite their choice of personalized insults, all inner critics are the same.
Inner bullies are born when we accept the wrong things that people say about us as our truth.MIdlife is Magical
Spoiler Alert- It All Starts In Childhood!
I know, I know, it looks like we are taking another train ride on the “blame our parents” express. But hold on a minute! If you are reading this post, then you must accept the responsibility for allowing your inner bully to curb stomp you.
Truth: every child has a parent that causes them harm, intentional or not. Every parent carries pain from their childhood, and be assured, it leaks out despite our best efforts. Most parents do the very best job they can for their children, raising them with great intentions. Other less- intentional parents are unaware of their own historical wounds and repeat their painful history without thinking.
I look back at some of the teasing that I did with my own kids, and I cringe. I mean, it wasn’t horrible, but I could have chosen better behavior! In recent years, I have identified painful words that I spoke to them and have made sincere apologies. Gratefully, they have accepted my to attempts make things right.
Everybody Says Mean Things
As we grow in family and community environments, we hear unkind things about ourselves. Most of us are not old enough to challenge the hurtful names or painful teasing that is heaped on our developing minds. As a result, we believe what is said about us, lacking the cognitive tools to analyze.
Growing Older and Wiser
When we hit our later developmental years, we are now pre-packaged with unkind images and ugly thoughts about ourselves. Some of us can challenge the inner bully, mentally defeating it by replacing the old thoughts with new truth. But many of us journey on, unaware that we have subconsciously accepted a false image of our intelligence, skills, and character.
You Need to Throat Punch Your Inner Critic!
Inner bullies are just like schoolyard bullies. They take advantage of our weaknesses and use our own fears against us. Fear of looking stupid, fear of saying the most embarrassing thing in recorded history, fear of losing connection with those that matter to us.
Like a real bully, the hurtful behavior stops when we stand up for ourselves. Believe it or not, we can mentally stand up for ourselves against the inner bully that controls our self-image. Our brain offers us thoughts all day long, some thoughts are useful and good, like: Be careful backing up the car, the cat is outside! Others are negative and scary: You are such a lousy driver, you are going to kill the cat, watch out stupid!
The first thought is helpful and can work for your good, I mean, we all want to keep our kitties safe from harm, right? The second thought is destructive and causes you to get tangled in all the previous mistakes/close calls that you had while driving.
Our brain loves to use historical evidence to keep us safe. That function served us when we had to live and survive in scary environments (think wild animals and deadly plants to avoid).
Our Brain Has One Job
Despite living in a modern, safety- focused world, that part of our brain is still very active. But instead of helping us avoid death by vicious animals or harmful plants, it spends its time reminding us of how scary the world is. And when we live in a state of potential harm, and we make a mistake, the inner bully adds it to the list of our historical screw-ups.
So, we when gear up to take a risk, our brain tells us that we are in danger and very possibly going to cause terrible harm to ourselves or someone we love. This way the brain keeps us “fake safe” minimizing our risk taking, and ultimately destroying our personal growth.
Talk Back to Your Inner Critic
Just like standing up for yourself against a real bully, we must take our power back from our inner bully. Truth is always available to us when we begin to ask better questions and analyze our assumptions. Try these two powerful methods to stop your inner bully from bossing you around!
Is that true? Ask this question when your brain starts up the anxiety train. This question makes your inner bully shut up while you regulate your emotions. Your brain has a dump truck of evidence that it wants to heap on you to keep you “safe”. If you are buried in evidence of past danger/mistakes, then you can’t move forward, and you won’t consider taking a risk to make changes.
When your thoughts start circling your emotions like a flock of creepy crows, hit the mental pause button and take a deep breath. Remember that you are safe, and that you have what you need to make good decisions.
Thanks, But NO Thanks Brain
Thank you, brain, but I am going to try this anyway….
This sentence is your second sure fire method of shutting up the mental menace. Your brain will offer you dumb, mean and false ideas. It is up to you (and me) to take charge of our response.
For example, you are thinking about making new friends. Maybe you have joined a new book club or an exercise class. Feeling threatened and unsafe in the new situation your bully brain steps in and says: “Everyone hates you”.
Your Inner Critic Is A Liar
Wow. That is a vicious thought. Is it true? Does everyone hate you? Of course not! That woman over there is smiling at you, and you are smiling back. How can she possibly hate you? She just met you!
You have evidence that your brain is lying to you, but we have been taught to believe that our thoughts are always true, so we begin to consider the idea that we are hated. We look for evidence, and suddenly, we are down the rabbit hole of self-loathing.
Silencing The Inner Critic
Try this instead: Thank you brain for offering me that thought, but I am going to take this chance to meet new people anyway.
And then you go ahead, get out of the car, walk through the door, and take the risk of meeting new people. Regulating your emotional response to your thoughts is a critical skill to have in self growth. It takes practice, but it is possible to re-wire your thinking patterns to support you and serve you.
Everyone has an inner critic. Accepting that our brain might be bullying us can be very freeing. We all carry messages from our early lives that can make us feel worthless or incapable. Identifying the voice of the inner critic is the first step to confronting the negative thought cycle that can keep us stuck.
Many of us don’t realize that our thoughts are often recycled, repeated from other voices and experiences. When we challenge the inner critic, we take back power over our thinking patterns. It can take time, but when we consistently move into a positive re-frame of our thoughts, we can experience long term positive change.
Like all psychological topics, this post is a brief overview of ways to change your mindset. If you want more information on this topic, search for topics like: brain bias, inner critic and overcoming negativity.
I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to create content that has a positive impact on your life. Midlife can be a time of exciting change, especially if we begin to explore how we think. Our thoughts affect our feelings, and our feelings often direct our behavior. Middle age is the best time to begin to clean up our thinking habits and begin new behaviors that support us as we navigate change.
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.