Most of us are well acquainted with our inner critic—that voice that constantly critiques and judges our actions. The root of the negative self talk comes typically from our early childhood years when we believed everything that authority figures—family, teachers, church elders, doctors, even “older and wiser” friends– told us.

In childhood, we had too little knowledge of the world, and were too dependent on love or protection of those powerful figures to discern between what was true and what felt true to them. For example, a teacher who feared she would be judged for a student’s poor academic performance might tell a child that she is “stupid” rather than admit that she has neither the time nor skills to help the child learn more effectively. Or a parent who had experienced many disappointments in his life might teach his son that “you can’t trust anyone.” Neither of the pronouncements were accurate but both might have been adopted as true by the child who did not know better.

Our authentic self however knows us better than the inner critic. That self is connected to our strength, our wisdom, our intuition as well as to our vulnerabilities and fears. Unfortunately, while the inner critic is an early riser, standing (figuratively) beside our bed waiting to get our attention the minute we wake, our authentic self waits for an invitation to speak to us and often requires quieting our mind to hear its voice.

For many of my clients, it can take a lifetime of careful listening to begin to discern critical self-talk, created from early childhood experiences, from the voice of their authentic self. Here then is a quick primer to help you spot both the critic and your authentic self.

Authentic self

The authentic self, or what I like to call the “soul” me, has a different “feel” to it than does the inner critic. Some of the qualities that distinguish it are:

  • Thoughts come as suggestions with a tone that is supportive and gentle or nurturing.
  • Lessons learned from past mistakes are framed in a way that is helpful going forward.
  • There is a sense of calm “rightness” to the actions suggestions that is less dependent on what others will think than how it aligns with your values.


Inner critic

The negative self talk that comes from old, outdated beliefs about ourselves is pretty easy to recognize, once you start paying attention. Some ways to catch the inner critic in action:

  • The tone of the voice is harsh, punitive, blaming, or demanding often creating ripples of panic, anxiety, fear, or anger in your body.
  • The voice brings up past mistakes, misdeeds, or failures in a shaming way.
  • The voice predicts incompetence or failure on your part or rejection from others.

For the next couple of days, see if you can catch the often automatic but negative self-talk when it shows up. And, when you do, ask yourself, what would the authentic me want to say instead?