How You and Your Teen Can Quiet the Inner Critic

fireheadbysalvatorevuonoWhy is it that we are our own worst critics? Why do we say such mean things to ourselves and call ourselves names (e.g., “fat”, “ugly”, “stupid”, “not good enough”, “failure”, etc) when we would never dare to say such awful things to our closest friends or acquaintances? Unfortunately, we often allow ourselves and somehow give ourselves permission to be so self-critical. We tend to be more understanding and to have more compassion for others than we do for ourselves. Indeed, it seems a lot easier to give compliments to others than to accept and to believe the compliments we hear.

Is there a purpose to this self-criticism? Yes. The answer is motivation. The reason we can be so judgemental and critical is to motivate us to change. One way to think about it is to see these thoughts as supposedly helping us do better, work harder, or strive for bigger goals. Of course, this does not mean it works.

Importantly, we need to consider the impact of the inner critic. What are the consequences of the name-calling, the self-judgements, and the self-criticisms? For one thing, I often see in my clinical practice adolescents (especially girls) who suffer from depression and low self-esteem. When I ask them to share what they like about themselves, these teens have a very hard time coming up with an answer. However, they can easily produce a long list of what they dislike about themselves. Their inner critic is playing its recordings all the time, on full volume without a mute button in sight, that that they cannot hear the positive inner voice cheering them on. Perhaps you have noticed this in your self. Maybe you also tend to listen to the critical voice making one nasty comment after another, rather than to your positive inner voice that reminds you how special you are and how much you are loved.

What can you and your teen do about this inner critic?

Three Helpful Strategies:

1) It is essential that you learn to distinguish between a thought and a fact. Just because you have the thought, it does not make it so or mean that it is true. A thought is often just that – a thought and nothing more. You can make the choice to pay attention to the criticism or to ignore it, to believe it or to let it go. Choose to let it go.

headbrainthoughtfulbysamuiblue2) Be your own “defense lawyer” and “star debater” by challenging and arguing against negative thoughts. Write down something your inner critic says to you. Then look for the proof. That is, write all the evidence that supports this thought (why is this thought true about you?) in one column and all the evidence that negates this thought (why is this thought not true about you?) in another column. Make sure you spend time thinking about all the reasons this thought cannot be true about you. Finally, see if you can come up with a more balanced, realistic thought after you do this exercise.

3) Practice turning up the volume of your positive inner voice. For example, come up with a list of your strengths, your passions, and what you like about yourself. Because this can be a challenging task, think about how your friends and family would describe you. You can go one step further and ASK three or more people for the top 5 qualities they admire or appreciate about you. Once you have compiled this list, make sure to read it and refer to it often.

Ultimately, by learning to ignore and let go of the negative, to challenge your negative thoughts, and to focus on the positive, your negative inner critic will be forced to quiet down.

Please let me know how these strategies work for you by writing your comments below. Do you have any questions? Please ask me.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,
Dr. Stephanie

Image at top left courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /
Image at right courtesy of Samuiblue /

P.S. Would you or your teen like more strategies to build self-esteem, combat depressed feelings, stress, or anxiety, improve relationships, and/or help fight the inner critic? Check out the recommended workbooks for teenagers below.

Recommended Workbooks for Teens

Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety
Christopher Willard, PsyDThis recommended workbook focuses on helping adolescents take control over their anxiety by learning all about developing mindfulness skills. The workbook offers teens proven-effective, mindfulness-based practices, such as special breathing exercises and guided visualization exercises and many other tips, to help them overcome anxiety at home, at school, and in other situations.
Beyond the Blues
Lisa M. Schab, LCSWThis recommended workbook offers many activities to help teens overcome depression and low self-esteem. For example, teens learn to focus on the positive, create balanced lives, assert themselves, and improve communication skills.
Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens

Sheri Van Dijk, MSWThis recommended workbook explains and teaches dialectical behavior therapy skills including mindfulness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance in order to help teens manage mood swings, control their anger and painful emotions, and improve their relationships with others.
The Stress Reduction Workbook for TeensGina M. Biegel, MA, LMFTThis recommended workbook teaches mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation skills as well as other tools in order to help teens deal effectively with their stress.
The Anxiety Workbook for Teens
Lisa M. Schab, LCSWThis recommended workbook provides 42 different activities to help teens cope with their anxiety and worries by learning relaxation skills, problem-solving skills, and ways to challenge their thinking.

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