What Is The Negative Voice Inside My Head?

what is an inner critic

The inner critic is the voice inside our heads, sending negative messages that can sabotage your success.  Don't worry, we all have one.  And boy, is she mean and often cruel!

You know, it's the negative voice inside your head that tells you:

  • how bad you look
  • how incompetent you are
  • no-one wants to be your friend

Although you may know her by a different name - she's sneaky like that!

  • Ego
  • Judge
  • Gremlin

The Link With Our Emotions

Our thoughts and feelings are deeply connected. When you send yourself negative messages, it leads to emotions such as insecurity and sadness.

These feelings often send an unintended message to the world, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you tell ourselves something long enough, you're likely to believe it and live that message.

Where Your Inner Critic Comes From

As babies, we rely on our parents to look after us. We’re incapable of doing it on our own. So, from a very early age, we learn to please our parents. You know that if you smile, your mother’s face lights up with pleasure and she will feel good. When your mother feels good, she becomes more loving towards you. And that feels good to you.

When you cry, the reaction is different. Your mother’s face may change to one of concern as she fusses over you. You may pick up on her tension, frustration or even displeasure. When you smile again, the love returns.

From an early age, your sole purpose is to please your parents. Your survival depends on it and your inner critic is learning fast.

As You Grow Up

As you get older, you continue to learn behaviour from those around you. Parents, teachers, siblings and friends, all have influence. They teach you how to behave so you learn how to cope and succeed in the world. Both at home and at work.

In the name of love, those around you work hard to make you conform. You may hear direct criticism such as

  • Stand up straight
  • Don’t eat your dinner like that, you’ll get fat or,
  • tidy your room and don’t be lazy

At school, your teachers may call you stupid because you didn’t know the answer to a question.

Your friends may laugh at you if you do something silly.  And the negative voice inside your head stores all this up for future use.

negative voices inside your head reinterprets criticism to something bad

Criticism is latched onto by the negative voices in your head as confirmation that you're not good enough

Indirect Criticism

You will also be subjected to indirect criticism.

By criticising others, your parents indirectly reveal the type of behaviour they want from you.

Look at Nelly, her manners are awful – highlighting what not to do.

Lizzie is so lazy, she stays in bed until midday – telling you lying in bed is not acceptable

Teachers influence your behaviour in the classroom. In exasperation, a teacher might say to the class ‘why can’t you all be good and pay attention like Suzy’. Here’s your standard – to be accepted by the teacher, your behaviour must match Suzy’s.

The negative voice inside your head will repeat these statements over and over again!

When You're At Work

In the workplace, organisations and managers influence us through performance feedback and salary reviews. The types of values the organisation promotes and the way managers will control the way you do your work.

And so we go on.

Like a sponge, you absorb all those critical and negative voices and soon learn that to survive, you need to adopt the accepted behaviour. You might even choose their values and beliefs. Such is the need to fit in and belong.

But the criticism makes you unhappy. It tells you everything that’s wrong with you.


Blindly you accept all the comments and soon the commentary becomes so ingrained the comments become your own thoughts. And thus the inner critic is born. The negative voices in your head repeat everything that you hear.  You believe everything you’ve been told and as a result, you don’t challenge your inner critic.

Whilst the voices in your head may seem to be keeping you safe, they are in fact limiting your potential to go beyond your comfort zone.

The Purpose Of The Inner Critic

Even though the inner critic makes you unhappy, it does have an important job to do.

It’s on constant alert, looking out for danger or threats to your wellbeing including the

‘deep flaws in ourselves that we fear make us unlovable.’

Laura Markham 

It’s also very bright as its

‘hyper-vigilant to the moods and wants of others’

Margalis Fjelstad – Four Steps To Deal with your inner critic.

To fit in, you adapt your behaviour.

This can be stressful if you believe you are not behaving in a way that’s true to yourself

But, it’s not all bad news.

Without your inner critic and its negative voice inside your head, you wouldn’t be able to recognize your mistakes and do something about them.

When The Bitch Goes Too Far

Keeping you safe is one thing, but the constant barrage of negative comments is not healthy. And, it can affect your behaviour and your relationships.

As Dr Anna Schaffner wrote in Living With Your Inner Critic It may cause you to engage in paranoid mind reading, attributing bad motives to other people’s words and actions.  Ever caught yourself saying 'I wonder what they're after' when someone has done something nice for you?

Your self-esteem and confidence can be undermined, and it can even sabotage your success.

If your self-esteem is low, it will impact how you feel about yourself, and if your confidence is affected, it can prevent you from following your dreams of being successful. Your inner critic feeds into your fears and the negative voice inside your head goes on overdrive. The consequences are similar to those you can read in my article Regaining Confidence When You Feel Like a Fraud.

At an extreme level, it can destroy you. It causes depression and feelings of being unworthy and unlovable. This is why it’s so important to learn to challenge your inner critic.

To reign that bitch in.

self-doubt can feel as if you are jumping into the deep end

Self-doubt can leave you feeling as if you have been dropped in at the deep end without your armbands.

When Self-Doubt Jumps In

Your inner critic doesn’t want you to succeed. It doesn’t even want you to try. Self-doubt is one of the most effective ways to convince you not to even try to achieve your goals. Self-doubt erodes your self-confidence and convinces you to give up before you even begin. It keeps you from tuning into healthier and more positive messages you may prefer to give yourself.

When you give into self-doubt, you're allowing the negative voice inside your head to take control.  You’ll notice that damaging habits like procrastination and remaining within your comfort zone can set in. Self-doubt can easily fuel anxiety and stress. Neither of these things help you make progress. Self-doubt sets you up to fail.

There Is Hope!

Being critical of ourselves is a common human trait. Somehow it's easier to see the negative in ourselves over our own shining strengths. Fortunately, with some education and introspection, you can learn to recognize your own self-defeating thoughts.

This insight is the key to managing and overcoming them.

Try to pay closer attention to your inner ramblings, what the negative voice inside your head is saying. Remind yourself that just because you think it doesn’t make it true. Write down patterns you notice, as this will help you to better determine which ideas are most harmful to your well-being and which messages should be addressed.

Next steps when read good things happen when you ask for what you want

Shutting up your inner critic can feel like a massive task. This is especially true if you’ve spent a lifetime giving into and believing this negative voice inside your head. Breaking through long-held beliefs and ingrained habits is one of the toughest things to do. That’s why so many of us simply give up on making changes. 

Whether it’s going to the gym or silencing your inner bully, ditching old habits is not easy. As with most difficult tasks, though, quieting your inner critic can be done.

Read my article on How To Challenge Your Inner Critic for more guidance

About the author Alison

A qualified UK based coach with 30 years of experience in personal development.

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