Talking to Your Critical Voices

by Cheryl Rainfield

Negative or critical voices can interfere with you feeling good about yourself – or feeling good at all. Sometimes those critical voices become so loud that they’re all you can hear – and you miss out on your beauty, your growth, and all the wonderful things you’re doing.

And if you grew up with critical or negative parents, or are a survivor of abuse, you have an additional, painful layer of negative messages to deal with. You may have heard horrible things said about yourself so often that you came to believe them, or you may still have those messages running through your head like a tape player – so softly that you hardly hear them, but always there, or so loudly that they blot everything else out. But there is a way to lessen the intensity of those critical voices, and to find some relief.

Notice the Critical Messages
To help quiet self-criticism, you need to be able to recognize that this is what is happening. You may be putting yourself down or criticizing yourself without even realizing that that’s what you’re doing. Try sitting quietly for a while, and listen to your thoughts – those in the foreground, as well as those in the background. If it helps to write them out, do that. Listen especially for phrases that include: “I’m too,” “I never,” “I always,” “I should/shouldn’t,” “I can’t,” “I’m just,” as well as the more obvious critical messages, put-downs, and insults.

A Look at the Patterns
Try to notice every time a new onslaught of self-critical messages begin inside you. Write down what was happening just before they started, and what you were feeling. Notice what the trigger was – the incident or feeling that started off your self-criticism. Did you make a “mistake” and verbally slap yourself, or laugh at yourself before anyone else could? Did someone else say something that made you think they were putting you down? Did someone laugh at you when you were feeling vulnerable?

Try to become familiar with your triggers – what sets off that criticism inside you. Then try to recognize that trigger as soon as it happens, or as soon after it has happened as you can. When you see that pattern occurring – a trigger setting off critical messages inside you – try to step back and see yourself with compassion, the way a friend would.

Trace the Messages Back to Their Root
Look at the messages you hear in your head. Are any of them familiar? Did anyone tell you any of those messages when you were a child? Do they sound like your mother – or your father? Or maybe your babysitter, a classmate, a teacher? Try to figure out when you first started “thinking” those phrases. Sometimes knowing where those messages come from can decrease their intensity. (For example, “Aha! That’s something my mother used to say to me. But she’s not right! I don’t need to carry her voice in my head any more.”)

Replace Those Messages With New, Loving Ones
Whatever the reason that you learned to criticize yourself, know that it doesn’t help you now; it hurts you. And you don’t deserve to be hurt. So try to give yourself new, loving messages. Make up some new messages for yourself – and remind yourself of them as often as you can.

Every time you hear yourself start to criticize yourself, take a moment to notice that, and then give yourself a new, loving message. Give yourself the kind of message that you would give to a close friend or someone else whom you love. It can also help to write out those messages, and put them anywhere that you’ll find them.

Forgive Yourself
Whatever you think you’ve done wrong, whatever you judge yourself for, you probably judge yourself far more harshly than anyone else ever would. Let go of that judgement. Forgive yourself for everything that you hold criticism for. We all make mistakes, every one of us. We all have times that we can’t live up to our ideals.

Let yourself know that you are doing your best – and in truly and wholeheartedly forgiving yourself, your critical messages will lose some of their power, and you will find that you are more beautiful than you thought.

Be Compassionate With Yourself
More than anyone else in the world, you deserve your own compassion and love. You truly do. And you are the one who, ultimately, can hurt yourself or heal yourself the most. You won’t make yourself a “better” person by criticizing yourself. You won’t make people love you more by emotionally beating yourself up.

But when you give yourself compassion, you allow yourself to be more of who you are – and in that blossoming, you encourage others to do the same. You may also find that you can give and receive love more easily – and that you feel better, happier, and more alive. Know that you are beautiful, and just right for how you need to be, the way you are.

So next time you hear your critical messages, take a moment to breathe, and then let those messages go. Recognize the beauty in your soul – and give yourself the loving messages you need.

Re-posted with kind permission of the author. More of her writings can be found at

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email