When Your Inner Critic Is Making You Miserable, Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

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How To Build Self Esteem, Self Image & Stop Your Inner Critic To Love Yourself

If you want to know how to build self esteem and improve your self image, you'll want to start by silencing your inner critic so you can learn to love yourself. 

Self esteem is vital to your personal self image, so if you're constantly dealing with criticism from other people (or a criticizing voice in your head), you're likely suffering from some low self esteem issues. 

RELATED: 5 Simple Steps For Building Self-Confidence

People don't realize how easy it is to criticize yourself for mistakes large or small, which is why you can end up with a "bully" sitting on your shoulder that's criticizing you at all hours of the day. It can lead to signs of low self esteem and even creative blocks. 

Do you hear a voice in your head criticizing everything you think? Every idea you have? Or anything you’ve already tried?

Here’s the number one tip to stop yourself before you begin to criticize yourself: Get that bully out of your head!

OK. It’s easier said than done; no question about that. But then again, you can’t write or create with a constant barrage of internal criticisms, can you? So, isn’t it worth a try?

If you’re caught in the middle of a bad low self-esteem bout, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, sure, how is that even possible?”

Here’s the thing: Hopeless convictions are a part of the propaganda the bully spews, and it's not at all constructive criticism you can use to make yourself better off in the long run.

The worst part is that you'll believe it.

You believe all of it when it has you in its grips. And, the bully has endless weapons in its arsenal to sabotage your creativity and bring it to a halt:

“You think this is any good? Who do you think you are? You can’t measure up to him, or her, or that person … so why are you even bothering?” The assaults go on and on.

So where do you even start to figure out how to build self esteem instead of just tearing yourself down all the time?

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself if you can't seem to stop criticizing yourself and it's hurting your self esteem:

1. "Who does my inner 'bully' remind me of?"

Has your bully been around a long time? It probably has. Usually, the seeds for bullies are planted early. Mostly in childhood.

Either you had experiences of actual criticism that made you think you're never good enough. Or you felt a lot of anxiety about doing things right. And this makes you try very hard to be perfect.

But perfection doesn’t exist, so you constantly feel you fail.

If there was someone who actually bullied or criticized you, that’s a good place to start. If you look back, can you see that that voice in your head is his or hers?

That voice etched its way inside you. Now you’re stuck with it. Now it seems like yours.

Or maybe you didn’t have such obvious criticisms. Let’s say you had experiences of deprivation or neglect or sibling rivalries, that made you feel you weren’t favored, wanted, or loved.

You were always comparing yourself to someone else.

And no matter how hard you tried, you never felt good enough, or that you were ever even “seen.” At least not in a positive way. And, you really thought you weren’t as good as that person you measured yourself against.

That’s enough to plant a bully in your head. Maybe that bully even believes that if you’re hard on yourself, that’s the way to make you “better.” You try and try.

The problem is, you believed these actual criticisms. Or the fantasies you had about not being good enough. Children always blame themselves for what has nothing to do with them.

The bully grabbed hold of these things and uses them when it can. 

RELATED: What To Do When You Feel Like Crap About Yourself

2. "How can I focus on what's good about me?"

Try not to listen to the bully. Do your very best to see what’s good in you and hold on to it tight. Even when insecurities hit and the bully is ranting away.

Remember: It spews old propaganda. Old beliefs; criticisms that had nothing to do with you. Try to believe that, and not the bully.

Bringing into your mind what’s good about you is one of the most important things you can do to dismantle the bully’s power. It may not be easy, but give it a try.

Think of the creative work you’ve already accomplished. The successes you’ve had. Remember the times when the work has flowed. And know that that will and can happen again. 

Take a deep breath and ponder your talents.

That may seem like a tall order if the bully has you in its grips and if you had a difficult past. The bully in your mind only wants to speak the language of failure. Telling you the ways you “aren’t any good.”

Its voice is not the voice of the truth. Especially in these moments when you sincerely believe it is. The bully brings back old feelings from childhood.

Try to remember, you aren’t your past. And the past isn’t now. But, if you believed those judgmental and critical voices then, it’s hard to conjure up what’s good.

Don’t forget: When the bully takes hold, you’re reliving an old belief from your past. And as soon as you think you have something, it’s taken away by a hopeless or negative thought. 

The truth is what you’re capable of. Not what you (or the bully) think you’re “not.” And if you imagine trying to be perfect is the answer, it isn’t.

Striving for perfection is your worst enemy.

3. "How can I stop trying to be perfect?"

Perfection is an unachievable goal for everyone. One of the worst things is when you think other people are. They aren’t. And you don’t have to be, either. Just strive to be your own best creative self.

It is an unusual and rare gift of inspiration if something comes out pretty much the way you want it on the first try.

Most people, edit and revise, or practice over and over. That can be the fun part if you let yourself take the plunge.

Tell the bully to get out of your way, and just get something on the page, or on the canvas. Let your voice be heard, or play the first note in that song.

4. "How can I stop myself from believing the bully?"

That bullying voice in your mind is not the voice of truth. 

Tell the bully to get out of your head and out of your way.

Of course, that’s a tough assignment — the toughest. After all, it’s very convincing and it thinks it knows better than you, but it doesn’t. 

So, tell the bully to “take a hike.” You want that voice as far from your mind and creative life as you can get it. 

If it’s still bothering you and making your creative space impossible, take a nice hike yourself. Or a bath. Watch a movie. Do something really nurturing for yourself.

When you’ve had a good breather, go back and start again. After you do that, have fun shaping the final product. You’ll be glad you did!

5. "Am I strong enough to get through this on my own?"

Did you try all these suggestions and still can’t get a break from the bully in your head?  Some mental bullies have a stronger hold than others, especially if you had early trauma. 

There are also certain times in life that a bully is harder to stop. Maybe you’re under a lot of stress for various reasons, or you had a recent disappointment or breakup you can’t shake.

If something has happened that stirs up old feelings or traumas, then trying psychotherapy is a good solution. A therapist who understands internal saboteurs and mental bullies can help you get out from under it.

So, think about that as an option. If you can’t get free from the bully or are having a hard time holding on to what is good — a therapist who has an objective view will help.

You don’t have to live with a mental bully holding court in your mind. Don’t let it have the last word.

RELATED: 4 Ways You're Unintentionally Sabotaging Your Relationships (& How To Fix The Underlying Issues)

Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in childhood trauma and helping you heal from the effects of trauma on your mind. For more information on how she can help you, visit her website to connect with her.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D.. Reprinted with permission from the author.