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A Healthy Way to Listen to Your ‘Inner Critic’

How to nurture yourself


Self-judgment is generally regarded as something to be avoided. I’ve often written about how to let go of guilt and toxic criticism—like in this post about how to let negativity flow right through you and out the other side.

So I was intrigued lately by a message from the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) h that seemed to suggest that our “inner critics” can have a positive role to play in our mental wellbeing.

Psychologist Rick Hanson says we have inner critics for one important reason: to guide us toward making better choices in life. But too much inner criticism, he acknowledges, is not just more of a good thing. A rock climber in his spare time, Hanson recalled two types of instructors he’s encountered, reflecting on how each one correlates with a style of inner criticism.

The Guide
One is encouraging and serious about the climb, he said—“friendly but stern.” This type of guide comments on things that are going well as well as correcting things that need adjustment.

The Critic
The other type of guide is one Hanson has encountered only once in many years of climbing. “He was so impatient,” he said, “He kept yanking on the rope, and I could feel his hostility and criticism and judgment rippling down every time he yanked on it.”

Can you guess which instructor made Hanson feel like he had become a better climber, and which left him discouraged and even less skilled? Yep, you got it.

Your inner critic can look like either one of these instructors—and you have the power to choose which. If you can encourage yourself while urging yourself to improve, develop and grow, your inner critic will be an ally in your positive life. If you can only heed the harsh, negative, judgmental criticism of that inner voice, you leave yourself vulnerable and low on confidence.

So, Hanson advises us not to feel the need to banish our inner critics altogether. Instead, rename yours an “inner nurturer,” something you can see as giving you an opportunity to walk through your days under the guidance of a caring, thoughtful instructor who has a deep interest in seeing you succeed.

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