What is the Critical Inner Voice?

The critical inner voice is the tiny (or not so tiny) “voice” in our head that makes us think destructive thoughts about ourselves or others. Clinical experts say these intrusive “voices” make up an inner dialogue that can act as the root cause of many of our self-destructive behavior patterns. 

Not to be confused with schizophrenia or other illnesses that cause auditory hallucinations, these nagging thoughts can be experienced by anyone and from within their mind. These voices or thoughts, if left unchecked, can prevent a person from acting in their best interest -- even ruining their lives in the process. 

How Does the Critical Inner Voice Affect Us?

We all have a constant stream of inner “voices” in our heads that dictate how we perceive ourselves and the outside world around us. However, the critical inner voice is made up of thoughts that negatively impact our self-esteem, the way we think about ourselves, and those that provoke non-productive thoughts or feelings about others. In other words, it is an eternal enemy. 

This eternal enemy can negatively affect every aspect of our lives and relationships with those whom we love and cherish. What’s more, it can also undo and undermine our performances and accomplishments in school, work, or any other arena in which we invest our passions and energies into. 

What’s more, if left ungoverned, our critical inner voice can foster distrust in ourselves and others, causing us to retreat inwardly and isolate ourselves from others. Because of this, the inner critical voice is typically a primary cause in people developing harmful self-destructive behaviors such as becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. 

Overcoming Your Critical Inner Voice According to The Experts 

The critical inner voice is a powerful one that can either consciously or subconsciously control our every move. It’s also self-perpetuating. As one clinical psychologist, Lisa Firestone, an author who has literally written books on the subject, explains, “Giving in to the voice and acting on its advice only creates more attacks. The voice that told us to have that extra piece of cake is now tearing into us for having no self-control.”

So the million-dollar question is, how do we conquer this critical inner voice?

Lisa Firestone studied alongside her father, clinical psychologist, Robert Firestone, the roots of the critical inner voice. 

Lisa’s father, Rober Firestone, is a renowned author in his own right and developed the cognitive-affective behavioral technique. He later wrote a book based on his CAB techniques known as Voice Therapy a Voice Therapy: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to Self-Destructive Behavior. In the book, he describes voice therapy as a way for people to effectively identify and ultimately detach themselves from this critical inner voice. As he puts it, voice therapy works by understanding the origins of your critical inner voice and then taking actions against it. These actions are goal-oriented and represent the person’s accurate self-perception and point of view. 

Robert and his daughter Lisa would co-author a book, ‘Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice,’ where they expound upon his earlier book (written for mental health professionals) and list five digestible steps for the general reader to apply to their life.   

These steps include: 

Step One: Identifying What Your Critical Inner Voice is Telling You

Of course, to eradicate something, you must first identify it. This is not dissimilar from how the first step in overcoming addiction is first admitting to yourself and others that you have one -- aka, identifying and coming to terms with the problem.

To identify your critical inner voice, identify an area of your life where you are especially critical of yourself. Next, pay close attention to what the criticisms are and address them in the second person, such as “you” statements. When people utilize the second person voice (such as “You’re so worthless,” rather than “I’m so useless”), they enable themselves to provide a hostility that underlies the inner critical voice’s self-attacking system. 

Step Two: Recognizing Where Your Voices Come From

By verbalizing your critical inner voice’s attacks in the second person, you are typically able to gain more insight in terms of their origins and how they got there. In addition, using second-person narrative often gives people familiarity with other times they have heard those destructive critiques in their lives.

For example, many times, people will hear tones and cadences that sound familiar, such as attitudes of others who directed the same or similar destructive notions towards them during their childhood. In man cases, people say things like, “That’s what my (mom, coach, grandma, etc.) used to say to me when I was younger.” 

Regardless of who said it, recognizing where it came from can help you distinguish it from your own mind, allowing you to gain compassion for yourself when they arise. 

Step Three: Responding to Your Critical Inner Voice

After identifying and recognizing your critical inner voice, it’s time to confront it head-on. This involves fighting your inner voice’s words with your own. 

When you have thoughts like “You’ll never be good enough!” respond in kind with things like, “I am good enough! In fact, I am exceedingly talented, loved, and have limitless potential!” 

Step Four: Understanding How Your Voices Influence Your Behavior

This step involves developing an interest in understanding how these self-defeating thought patterns have impacted your life in the past: How many times have these critical falsehoods become self-prophetic? In other words, how many times have you listened to these voices and let them trick you into doing something that just reinforced their validity? 

As Dr. Lisa Firestone says, “An example of this would be a person with the voice that he or she is stupid recognizing times when he or she acted less capable or confident as a result of having heard that self-attack.” 

Step Five: Changing Your Self-Limiting Behaviors

The final step involves re-establishing the limits that your critical inner voice set for you. 

By now, you have identified, fought back against, and gained a deeper understanding of how the inner voices have affected your behavior and limited you from acting in your best interests. Now, you can begin to change by doing (or not doing) two things:

  1. Don’t engage in the self-destructive behavior the critical inner voice tells you to.
  2. Instead, engage yourself in the positive behaviors that actively work against the critical inner voices. 

For instance, if you are a person who is reserved and isolated yourself due to the critical inner voice telling you to avoid social interactions, make a point of striking up conversations with people at a party, your work, or other social gatherings in which you typically feel uncomfortable. 

It’s Not Easy, But It’s Worth it

As any endeavor worth pursuing in life, it’s not easy overcoming your critical inner voice. In your quest to regaining control of your inner thoughts and defeating your self-destructive critiques, you may very well end up experiencing negative emotions, namely, anxiety. After all, undergoing significant change is stressful, and as Dr. Lisa explains, “getting rid of an inner critic is no exception.” 

The doctor warns her readers that when attacking the inner critics of our mind, their attacks tend to grow stronger and more intense to keep their stronghold and authority of our thoughts. This is why many people learn to live with their demons and grow comfortable in living with their negative and self-destructive directives; it’s uncomfortable to fight back. 

But this comfort is not real. It is nothing more than a delusion that your critical inner voice tricks you into thinking. So embrace the discomfort of radical change so you can live a radically different life; Fight on.

I think Dr. Lisa Firestone put it best in an article she wrote for Psychology Today when she said, “Some people mistakenly believe that their critical inner voices are what keeps them in line, so they fear that if they do not heed them, they will act badly. However, the more people act against their critical inner voice, the weaker its influence on their lives becomes. On the other hand, if they stick it out and follow the steps of voice therapy, people become more themselves and can achieve goals and live free from imagined limitations.” 

Living free of the inner critical voice is living free indeed.