Most of us have an internal voice that sounds incredibly unkind at times. It criticizes even our smallest actions. We let it berate us and boss us around, often without the slightest challenge from our better voices. We let it say things to us that we would never say to a friend.
Sometimes it says things like, “That was a stupid thing to do. Why can’t you ever get it right? Why do you even bother anymore?”
At other times, it might say, “Wow, your backside looks big in these pants. Guess your sweet tooth can’t be broken. You’ll be the biggest person there tonight.”
There is no end to the mean, hurtful things it says. This internal voice is often called the inner critic. It is a self-destructive way of talking to yourself.
The inner critic can contribute to several mental health issues, including anxiety. Here are five ways this voice can contribute to anxiety.
1. It Creates Self-Doubt
The inner critic loves to undermine your confidence. By continually questioning your actions, decisions, and interactions with others, it creates intense self-doubt. It makes you compare yourself to others, which likely results in your feeling discouraged.
It’s easy to see how anxiety grows out of this way of thinking.
2. It Interferes with Your Relationships
Your inner critic can make you question even your closest relationships. After coffee with a friend, your inner critic can pipe up. “You shouldn’t have been that vulnerable,” or “What if she misunderstood what you meant and is offended?”
It can even make you become suspicious of other people and misinterpret their innocent words. This mindset can contribute to forms of social anxiety and cause you to withdraw or be less open with loved ones.
3. It Reminds You of Past Failures
No matter how much you’ve grown personally over the years, your inner critic insists on pointing out ways that you’ve failed. Despite your successes and strengths, it only lets you see failures. Gone unchallenged; it creates anxiety about the future.
4. It Returns You to Painful Childhood Experiences
Often, the inner critic has a voice that sounds a lot like an adult from your early years. It could be a mother, father, teacher or instructor, or an extended family member whose words echo in your mind.
Chances are, your parents talked the same way to themselves. The inner critic can be like a genetic deformity that transmits itself from one generation to the next.
As children, we are painfully vulnerable to the words and actions of those in our lives. If a parent frequently criticized you or made fun of you, that voice happily becomes part of the way you think about yourself.
Anxiety arises from such early experiences of emotional pain and insecurity. These voices from childhood know how to create a sense of guilt. You begin to fear punishment and cower emotionally, feeling frightened of judgment or scorn.
5. It Prevents You from Seeing Your True Self
The inner critic is skilled at making you forget that the good about you outweighs any bad. It can become so much a part of you that you don’t even realize it’s there.
Negative thoughts about yourself become second nature. You discount your strengths and accomplishments as being insignificant. Your opinion of yourself is small; anxiety takes over about your ability to handle life and what the future holds.
With practice, though, you can learn to stand up to your inner critic. Force yourself to make a list of what is good and right about yourself. Even what seems like something small counts.
Over time, you can teach your inner voice to become more positive. You can reprimand it when it talks back and insist on affirming what is good about yourself.
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