When you make a mistake at work, are you very harsh with yourself? Or do you sometimes feel self-conscious around colleagues, as if you can’t quite say or do the right thing? This is the ‘inner critic’ at work—in other words, that voice in your head who tells you everything you’re doing is wrong.
This voice can cause us to be much harsher and more unforgiving towards ourselves than we would ever dream of being to others. Yet where does it come from? And what can you do to quieten it down?
Everyone has an inner critic to some degree. However, if you grew up with particularly critical or demanding parents, you might find that you have internalised their voices to the point where they’re still running as a monologue in your head into adulthood. This can make it hard to separate what is actually true from ‘old programming’ that started in childhood.
• Having an inner monologue that frequently tells you that you’re ‘useless’, ‘worthless’ or have something ‘wrong’ with you.
• Having thoughts about not being worthy of love, success or career advancement.
• Not being able to enjoy your achievements, because the inner monologue tells you that you should do better.
• Being overly harsh with yourself for mistakes you make at work.
• Often feeling self-conscious around others, including work colleagues.
• Being highly sensitive to criticism, as it feels as if they are ‘confirming’ the negative things your inner monologue says about you.
• Feeling driven to drown out your inner critic with self-soothing activities like drinking, taking drugs, or seeking validation on social media.
This inner voice can severely undermine your self-esteem, relationships and ability to feel confident in your career. It can also cause mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. But thankfully, there are ways to manage the inner critic and gradually gain greater self-acceptance.
Start to become mindful of when your inner critic is speaking, what it is saying and what triggers it in the first place. For instance, does it become triggered when you don’t get praise from a boss? Or when a colleague challenges you? Or when a customer is rude to you?
Whether we realise it or not, our inner critic tends to be at its most active when we are in emotional pain or shame. That’s why it is crucial to be aware of your own personal triggers to self-criticism. If you’re not sure what those triggers are then keeping a journal can be useful as it can help you to see patterns that you didn’t even know existed. For instance, you might notice that your inner dialogue is harsher after spending time on LinkedIn and comparing your achievements to your peers.
When it comes to dealing with self-criticism, it can be good to start with one simple rule: ‘I won’t talk to myself in a way that I wouldn’t to a friend’. So if your inner dialogue becomes cruel, abusive or simply makes you feel upset, ask yourself ‘would I speak to anyone else like this?’
Next, there are a couple of approaches you can take to deal with the inner critic. Firstly, you could get into the habit of challenging it. Our thoughts are not facts so next time the inner critic speaks, ask yourself ‘Is this actually true?’ For instance, are you really a ‘failure’ if you have been asked to do a task at work you don’t understand? Begin to set boundaries with your inner critic, challenging its negative messages and replacing them with better ones such as ‘It’s okay to ask for clarity on a task that I don’t understand’. In setting boundaries with your inner critic and questioning its assumptions, you will be going a long way towards loosening its grip on your life.
Secondly, you can gradually learn to detach from it. Meaning you might still notice what it’s saying, but you no longer overly identify with its comments or accusations. You can learn to detach from negative inner monologues by introducing a mindfulness meditation practice to your day, even just for five minutes in the morning. Mindfulness can help you learn to become an objective observer of your thoughts, instead of automatically acting on them, as if they are ‘real’, ‘true’ or ‘accurate’. You can then start to notice these critical thoughts for what they are — the same old judgements that show up regardless of the reality that’s going on around you.
Your next step is to welcome another voice into the conversation, one with very different opinions from the critic. In other words, your compassionate inner voice.
This voice speaks to you with kindness and care, in the way that a good friend would or an encouraging coach. It tells you that no one is perfect and also reminds you that you are deserving of respect. It makes a point of listing your career achievements instead of your perceived ‘failures’. It also validates how you’re feeling at work and comforts you when you’re upset.
This compassionate voice can help you to gain a whole new perspective on yourself and your working life, so take the time to really listen to it. If you’re struggling to get started, then you could try thinking about what you’d say to someone you care about if they were in your shoes.
The above techniques are all very effective and can make a real difference to your self-esteem at work.
However, there is a deeper level to managing your inner critic and that’s working out where it came from in the first place. Who in your life does it most sound like? A parent? Teacher? School bully? Or just the media with its constant messages of self-improvement and perfection?
In order to deal with your inner critic, it can help to take a look at the past and present forces in your life that might have caused it to become strong. Of course, this can bed difficult and painful work, which is why therapy is often an essential part of the journey.
Dealing with the inner critic is an ongoing process, especially if it has been dominating your life for along time. But as you cultivate your compassionate inner voice, you’ll find that it becomes easier to be kind to yourself, both in work and out of it.
Check out everything our all-in-one mental wellbeing platform provides to businesses here. If you’re interested in finding out more, a demo of the new Lumo Health platform or a free introductory webinar for your teams please just get in touch with Rich@lumohealth.care or Mirsad@lumohealth.care.
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