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Growing Up with Your Inner Critic: The Origins of Low Self-Esteem

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Last Updated Dec 09, 2020

Is that voice in your head often putting you down, blaming you for all the things you've done wrong or badly, and telling you just how hopeless you are?  Does it follow you around wherever you go – at work, on holiday, to parties, on a first date – like an unwanted "hanger on" who just doesn't go away?  Let me introduce you to your inner critic!

Healthy self-esteem is essential for psychological survival.  It's founded on our own values which may include love, respect, forgiveness and a tolerance for our self and others.  This translates to healthy relationships, feelings of happiness, self-empowerment, and being more personally and professionally satisfied.

Everyone has an inner voice, or critic.  Some are kind, compassionate, encouraging and supportive, but it's probably the ones with the loudest voices that judge, condemn, analyse and belittle.  It's this voice that can so often determine our feelings and affect our emotions too, thereby determining our level of self-esteem.  If you find that you're doubting yourself, have a head full of negative thoughts and a feeling of "not being good enough" welcome to the world of low self-esteem.

Individually we all fall somewhere along the self-esteem spectrum dependent on a variety of factors and life experiences.  Studies show that during a child's first few years parenting style determines the level of self-esteem a child starts their early life with.  So often parents are unaware of their children's psychological development, instead focusing their attentions on the physical milestones of childhood, and ignorant to the inner workings of their child's sense of self that is ultimately creating the imprint for their future psychological wellbeing.

Parents often don't take into consideration that young children haven't mentally developed a sense of right vs wrong, an ability to rationalise actions or decisions, and as a result the child receives negative feedback, often delivered in a purposeful tone of shaming.  This (often unconscious) lack of awareness in providing an emotionally safe and secure environment for a child is a key factor in the development of low self-esteem and in forming an internal frame of reference – how you as an individual view the world.

Experiences at school and throughout adolescence can also impact how we view ourselves.  Bullying, perceived under-achievements academically or in the sporting arena, or an absence of rewarding and reciprocal friendships all feed the inner critic.

Internally you believe that you're not good enough, cannot achieve your goals, and hence undervalue yourself and feel undeserving.  You might compare yourself to others, have rigid thought patterns and be less likely to take risks in order to grow personally and professionally due to fear of failure or believing that you're not good enough.  Outwardly you might shame others, put them down, have extreme emotional reactions, or perhaps feel no emotions at all.  Of course all of these things create a self-fulfilling prophecy and you end up feeling even more down on yourself!

Without positive factors to balance out the distorted way of thinking of yourself and the world around you, your inner critic ends up having the loudest voice and you begin to trust its reasoning.

We can't however continue throughout life to blame our childhood, our parents, our boss or ourselves for our lack of self-belief.  At some stage we have to raise our awareness of just how much airtime our inner critic gets and learn to be gentler on ourselves in order to grow and develop a healthier sense of self.  Whilst the critic isn't so easy to cut loose, there are many ways to make it more friend than foe, and to make it work for you in raising your self-esteem and allowing you to create the life you really want.

This article was written by Louisa Fallon from Louisa Fallon Counselling & Reiki.

Originally published on Sep 01, 2010

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