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4 Ways to Use Journaling to Calm Your Inner Critic

Reflection

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s a voice we’re all familiar with, and one that we all find challenging. Yes, the inner critic is the part of our internal dialogue that can make or break our day.

At its best, our inner critic helps us live in a way that’s true to our values, questioning decisions that we might regret later and keeping us on the straight and narrow. At it’s worst, however, an inner critic rampage can bring down our mood, self-esteem, and sense of self-worth.

Much of my own self-work has focused on my internal dialogue. My inner critic can be mean. She has completely different standards for me than for anyone else, and she knows exactly what to say to make my self-confidence crumble.

One aspect of my life my inner critic has been most vocal about is my work. After graduating, I started out as a freelancer, and then recently transitioned into running my own business.

My critic dealt with these transitions by telling me I was getting too big for my boots to think I could make a living working for myself, trying to convince me other people wouldn’t take me seriously, and criticizing everything from my earnings to the fact that I didn’t have a “real” job.

At a time when I was pushing myself outside my comfort zone, this was a painful experience that provoked all kinds of self-doubt and anxiety (plus many sleepless nights).

Calming my inner critic is a work in progress, but there is one tool that I have found invaluable for entering into a more productive dialogue with it: Journaling.

The inner critic only has power when we give it that power. Journaling has helped me learn how to not only keep the inner critic at bay in the short-term, but also to develop a more healthy and balanced relationship with this, and other parts of my internal dialogue, over the long-term.

Here are four ways you can use journaling to calm your inner critic:

1. Cheerleading

Cheerleading is a simple journaling practice that takes a negative self-belief and turns it into an accepting and self-compassionate statement.

Here’s an example:

Negative statement: I hate my stomach. I hate the way it bulges when I sit down, and the way it hangs over my favorite jeans.

Cheerleading statement: I accept my stomach, and accept that it looks the way it looks right now. Any desire to change it comes from wanting the best for my health, not from a sense of not being good enough.

or

I accept my stomach, and know that it is just a part of me; I am not defined as a person by how it looks.

This exercise might feel unnatural at first. It’s easy to get caught up in the inner critic’s beliefs. Cheerleading not only provides us with an alternative perspective, but also helps us strengthen a more self-accepting voice. The more you practice it, the more natural this turnaround becomes and, consequently, the less powerful the critic’s statements become.

2. Dialogue

Our inner critics are capable of dishing out some seriously harsh criticism, but they’re there for a reason. Although it might not be immediately obvious, all of our internal voices are working in their own way to protect us—even the inner critic. When we are shamed and judged for things by other people, over time we internalize their beliefs and start shaming and judging ourselves.

The inner critic works in this way to curb our behavior, and prevent other people from shaming and judging us in the future. Because it’s really trying to protect us, the more we try to ignore and repress our inner critic, the louder it becomes. One way we can calm this voice is to talk to it, and write out the conversation.

When doing this, I find it helpful to bring forward a nurturing internal voice (also called the “adult” part or your “true self”) to act as a mediator.

Start by asking your inner critic to tell you more about a particular statement it made recently, or with a more general dialogue about your feelings. The aim of this is to start a constructive conversation that helps you understand and even empathize with my inner critic’s motivations.

When I realized that my inner critic was trying to protect me from the criticism of specific childhood figures—people I’m not around anymore—it was a lot easier to understand, accept, and reassure the critic. Consequently, the critic’s words became less powerful.

Like cheerleading, this exercise might feel unnatural at first (after all, talking to “the voices in our head” carries a degree of cultural stigma). Keep persevering, and you’ll soon be able to hold a constructive and calmer dialogue with your critic.

3. Retrospect

“Retrospecting” involves reading back over past journaling notes and looking at patterns, language, themes, and underlying beliefs. This activity is best done weeks or months after writing an entry so enough time has passed that you can read with a more objective eye. Consider the following questions:

Does your inner critic sound like anyone you know?

This could be a parent, other relative, a mentor, or anyone who played a significant role in your life as a child.

Does it have any recurring complaints?

Perhaps your inner critic focuses on specific characteristics or attributes, such as your appearance, your work ethic, or your interactions with others. When we identify these patterns, we can look at where they might have come from. My inner critic’s recurring complaints involve my appearance and the idea that I’m “anti-social”—both of which I was criticized for while growing up.

Is there any kind of truth in the critic’s complaints?

We’ve already talked about how the critic is out to protect us, and although it might not communicate with us in manner that’s easy to hear, sometimes it has a point. It can be tempting to dismiss our inner critic’s criticisms as meaningless, but they can be a useful indicator of when we might be behaving out of line with our values.

What do you think your critic is trying to protect you from?

There is a method behind the madness, so take a step back and try to empathize with your inner critic’s motivations, as I described in tip two.

4. Strengthen your other internal voices.

Our inner critics are here to stay and (as much as we might want them to) will not disappear any time soon. One way to balance out our internal dialogue is to make the critic comparatively quieter by strengthening our nurturing internal dialogue.

Beginning this process through journaling helps us strengthen this voice in writing, with the aim that one day we’ll be able to shift the process to real time and have a compassionate, empathic response counteracting the inner critic’s complaints.

The cheerleading exercise above is helpful for this kind of strengthening. You can also use journaling to return to situations that roused the inner critic, and retrospectively respond in writing with the kind of dialogue that would come from a gentler nurturing voice.

Having strengthened my own nurturing voice through journaling, it’s now a lot easier to access that voice internally when my critic appears.

The parts of our internal dialogue are like muscles: the more we use them, the stronger they become. Developing a supportive, empathic dialogue comes with consistent practice over time. With conscious care and attention, however, it is possible to shift our internal dialogue from criticism and blame to empathy and acceptance.

How do you calm your inner critic?

Photo by Renata Diem

Profile photo of Hannah Braime

About Hannah Braime

Hannah Braime is a coach and writer who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed. She shares practical psychology-based articles, tools and resources on living a full and meaningful life over at Becoming Who You Are. Get free access to workbooks, audios and much more when you join the community.

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  • Lifeandhowtoliveit

    Great article thank you. On the cheer leading point should we write the negative thought and then the positive one afterwards or should we only be writing the positive one? Many thanks for the useful tips.

  • Joan Harrison

    I learned a while ago to close down my inner critic when it said something negative to me by saying the word “dismiss”. With practice it has worked wonders for me.

    I agree with you getting your thoughts out onto paper can be very cathartic, I wrote an article this morning when I woke and when I read it through later I became emotional, however when I wrote it I was not feeling that way. It was strange to read my first thoughts of the day and be stirred by them and understand the deeper meaning.

    Getting it all out in whatever way suits you can only be good – leaving it inside to fester can only damage your mind and your body.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman.com

    I don’t know if journaling is for me, but I do know that having a chit chat with that inner critic is not a bad idea. I guess I could do it out loud when I’m commuting. If my windows are down, people will think I’m a wacko, but that’s okay. Everyone’s a wacko out there 🙂

  • Barbara

    This is hands down the hardest work we do. I’ve never met anyone in my life who was raised on total praise for their appearance, intelligence, social graces…the list goes on. Over time we try to beat others to the punch and be our own worst critic. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? Journaling is a great idea to quiet our inner critic. Somehow putting it on paper and reading it back give new meaning.
    Great post!
    Thanks,
    Barbara

  • DawnHerring

    Hannah,

    This topic on the inner critic is a complicated one, but I think your multi-faceted approach is smart and doable. We just have to trust that those conversations will flow in our journals and see it as a natural process rather than odd. Tuning in to what those voices are saying and why they’re saying is vitally important to understanding our authentic selves. I also think that the intuitive voice, which is to me, often calm and relaxing and to the point as well, can help to balance the critic’s voice rather well, so we don’t feel overrun by it but rather learn from it, as you have shown here.

    I have chosen your post, 4 Ways to Use Journaling to Calm Your Inner Critic, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 4/10/13, for all things
    journaling on Twitter; a link will be posted on the social networks, on my blog
    and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in my weekly Refresh Journal: http://tinyurl.com/cth72mu.

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; our
    topic this week is Your Journaling: Shake It UP! Tina Bradley is our special guest!

    I appreciate what you have shared here, and trust it will be helpful to others.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Your Refreshment Specialist
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child

  • HannahBWYA

    Hello Joan, thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree that storing up negative self-thoughts is unhealthy in the long run.

    I’m glad to hear that saying ‘dismiss’ has been a valuable way of dealing with the inner critic for you. I guess I also wonder whether it’s possible to close that part down completely? In my experience, the inner critic sometimes has useful things to say, even if the way in which it communicates them is far from useful! What do you think?

  • HannahBWYA

    Hey Barbara, I totally agree with what you wrote about the vicious cycle and its origins. So true! Getting everything out on paper can definitely help us see it from a different perspective.

  • HannahBWYA

    If it works for you, go for it! 🙂 We often refer to the ‘voices in our head’ in quite a pejorative way, but actually having a strong internal dialogue is very healthy. It’s when we’re not aware of what’s going on for us internally that we act unconsciously and do things we don’t understand.

  • HannahBWYA

    Hello! Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.

    I usually write the negative statement followed by the positive statement, but I’d say experiment with both formats and see which one works best for you 🙂