Affirmations for Taming the Inner Critic

Affirmations for Taming the Inner Critic

When people first start to use affirmations, they often experience a disconcerting phenomenon. Each time they say their affirmation, a second voice jumps in to oppose the affirmation. In my book Words That Heal, I give the example of a client who used Muhammad Ali’s famous affirmation “I am the greatest,” in order to build his self esteem. Here is how his inner self-talk played out.


I am the greatest.

I am the greatest.

I am the greatest.

What Comes Up:

I’m afraid you’re not.

In fact, you’re a real loser.

You can’t do anything right!

Another name for this disparaging “No voice” is “The INNER CRITIC.” The inner critic is the negative inner voice that constantly judges, criticizes, and negates attacks us. Here are some of the inner critic’s favorite tactics.

  1. S/he blames you for things that go wrong,
  2. S/he compares you to others—to their achievements and abilities—and finds you wanting.
  3. S/he sets impossible standards of perfection and hounds you for the smallest mistake.
  4. S/he keeps an album of your failures, but never once reminds you of you strengths and abilities.
  5. S/he has a script telling you how you ought to live. He “shoulds” all over you.
  6. S/he calls you names—stupid, incompetent, weak, selfish, defective, ugly—and makes you believe they are all true.
  7. The inner critic loves to focus on what you didn’t do right instead of what you did right. He produces SHAME—Should Have Already Mastered Everything.
  8. S/he employs the cognitive distortion of overgeneralization through using the words always and never—i.e., “You always mess up,” or “always screw up a relationship,” or “never do anything on time.”

The inner critic resembles what John Bradshaw calls “the shaming voices in our head” that reinforce our sense of unworthiness and failure. In the perennial TV show Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special, Charlie Brown repeatedly asks, “Why is it that everything I touch gets ruined?” This type of shaming self-talk is repeated by millions of people around the country each and every day.

Strategies for Responding to the Inner Critic

The inner critic is usually some internalized critical parent or other authority who judged, criticized or put us down when we were children. Now that voice has become incorporated into our own internal self-talk, it is up to us to disarm him or her. Eleanor Roosevelt said that “nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.” At some point we gave the inner critic the power to make us feel inferior; now is the time to take our power back. The process for accomplishing this is identical to what we used in cognitive restructuring: becoming aware of the inner critic, disputing the validity of what the critic is saying, and replacing the critic’s voice with a realistic, positive self-statement. Here are the steps.

Step #1: Become aware of the negative voice of the inner critic.

The first step in any change process is awareness. Start to notice when you begin to put yourself down. It helps to give the inner critic a name—i.e. “the bully,” “the critic.” “the judge,” “Mr./ms. perfect,” “Martha,” (a parent’s name), “Mr./ms. kick-ass, hard-ass” etc. This helps to differentiate between you and the critic.

Step #2: Halt what the critic is saying.

After becoming aware of the critic’s voice, you then short-circuit the negative self-talk and stops it in its tracks. The following “Howitzer mantras” are selected words and phrases that are designed to do just that.

Stop that!
Shut up!
Get lost!
Lies, lies, and more lies.
I beg to disagree, mother.
I beg to disagree, father.
I beg to disagree (fill in the name)
What you are saying is absolute nonsense.

Step 3: Use affirmations to replace the critic’s negative self-talk with a more realistic and compassionate view of yourself.

Here are some examples:

Inner Critic’s Self-Talk

You’re not good enough.

I hate myself.

What a jerk!

You’re stupid.

You’re ugly.

You’re fat.

You’re a butthead.

You’re a loser.

You’re worthless.

You can’t do anything right.

No one cares what I have to say.

You’re not good enough.

You could have done better.

You don’t measure up.

You’ll never be a success.

Replacement Affirmation

I’m okay.

I like myself.

I’m a nice person.

I’m smart.

I’m attractive

I like my body.

I’m hip.

I’m a winner.

I’m awesome.

There are many things I can do.

I have important things to share.

I am fine the way I am.

I did the best I could.

I am me and I am enough.

By my standards, I already am a success.

Ultimately, the best way to inoculate yourself against the inner critic is to practice self-acceptance. The inner critic’s power comes from the belief that you are not okay the way you are. Once you start to have compassion for yourself and practice self-forgiveness, the inner critic’s power over you will diminish.

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