Shame on you: How do I stop being self-critical?

Do you struggle to feel a sense of accomplishment no matter how hard you have tried? Are you feeling like a bad parent, even though you’ve given your children all that you have to offer? Do you fall into each weekend desperate to drown your sorrows, sleep or grab easy food options because cooking feels like too much effort? Are you being too hard on yourself?


If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you may have gone into battle with your critical voice and perhaps it has decided to make an enemy out of you.  

All is not lost, however. It is possible to address these negative feelings and tackle your current challenges in a more positive way. But this won’t be a battle won with an army of willpower. Success won’t come from forcing your critical voice into submission. If you want to win back control of your well-being, you need to plan a peace mission. One where you will become your own best friend and ally.

Why do we have a critical voice?

Everyone has an inner dialogue. Sometimes we literally talk to ourselves but often it’s more of a reflective thought process. Your inner voice can be very useful; helping you prepare for what you are about to do or to reflect on the day.

It is also a voice of judgement- praise for a job well done or a ‘You can do this!’ ahead of a challenge. Unfortunately, it isn’t always as helpful as that. It can show up as the whisper in your ear telling you that you’ve made a fool of yourself. The voice that pulls you apart in front of the mirror for looking too fat or too old. This is your critical voice.

It may be that your critical voice has become such a familiar part of yourself that you are no longer even aware that you are being influenced by it. Although stealth-like in its ability to control your thinking, it is not very original. It will tend to follow a similar set of rules: rules that have become hardwired over time. Rules that, if we keep following them, can become rigid and unhealthy.

Here are some of the more common ones. Do any of them sound familiar?

The rules of the critical voice

  • be perfect at all times 
  • work hard or you’ll let yourself down 
  • be strong - don’t show anyone you’re struggling

Somewhere in life, you were taught these rules. You believed that if you followed them, you would be accepted. You trusted in them because they came from parents, teachers and leaders and were then reinforced by television and social media. People hate to feel isolated, so you adhered to them obediently until they became your own.

Maybe they worked at first. Perhaps they helped you attain a certain status or financial stability. Perhaps they helped you fit in. But have you now become a slave to them? It’s important to check and see whether they are still working for you.

If we keep following the rules of the critical voice blindly, we risk sacrificing our time and energy in the pursuit of acceptance. It is when we start to sacrifice too much of ourselves, we begin to feel conflicted. But your critical voice is wily; it can sense that inner conflict and, believe me, it doesn’t like it at all. It fears change and hates risk, so will do whatever it takes to prevent it.  

‘Listen to me!’ it shouts. ‘You may not like what I’m telling you but it’s for your own good. Now is not the time to rest or let your standards drop. If you show your weakness now, then you will regret it. Keep going!’ it urges.

Although this inner dialogue can be very convincing, this voice doesn’t have a mind of its own. It’s like a pre-recorded podcast. The voice that plays in our head knows nothing of your present situation because it was recorded long before it happened. It was programmed out of fear, to protect us.

Once upon a time, its words might have been relevant and, possibly, even welcome. But much like a favourite album, it can date. Belief systems and the need for them can become irrelevant too. But it will not stop or change until you challenge it.

Time for a rethink?

Hi Mr/Mrs Perfect,

How are you really doing?  It must be tiring to feel so afraid to fail. Have you ever wondered what would happen if people saw the real you from time to time? I’m sure they’d be able to relate to you. Perhaps you could adjust the notch on the dial just a little bit - just to take the pressure off? Maybe then you’d find the space to say no, to take risks and even be a little rebellious. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Hi Mr/Mrs Work Hard,

Have you been so busy pushing forward that you’ve forgotten to see how much you’ve achieved? What would it feel like to pause for a while and enjoy the fruits of your labour, to celebrate your successes and the people that helped you get there? Wouldn’t it feel good to rest every now and again - rebuild some of that energy ready for the next challenge? How is your health doing? Are you looking after yourself as well as you could be?

Hi Mr/Mrs Strong,

How are you feeling? I know you don’t like to answer this question, not honestly at least. Today I’m not here to listen to your usual ‘I’m fines’. I care about how you really feel. You don’t need to be happy all the time, people don’t depend on it as much as you think they do. Pull up a chair and talk to me. I care about how you are doing.

Finding our inner ally

We have listened to our inner dialogue for many years and, at first, it might feel like it is impossible to think or behave any differently but as you have grown into an adult and developed your own values and aspirations, you have acquired the ability to programme your own messages and question the rules you have relied on up until now. A good counsellor can help you do this if you’re not sure how to get started.

We all have another voice inside of us. It is our own authentic voice and, if we are brave enough to listen to it, it will teach us what we need to know to feel truly happy.

So, now is the time to give this voice a platform. There is no need to be afraid. Be brave and let your true voice be heard. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10
Written by Catherine Beach, Counselling, Dip Couns, MBACP
Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10

Catherine is a counsellor and teacher from Kent. She is on a mission to help her clients rebuild their confidence, working with them to discover their passions, wants and needs so they can go out and pursue them. Catherine is passionate in the belief that we are all good enough but live in a world that often convinces us otherwise.

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