Step One: Identify What Your Critical Inner Voice is Telling You

In order to challenge the negative attacks, you must first become aware of what your critical inner voice is actually telling you. You can do this by identifying an area of your lives where you are especially critical of yourself and then pay attention to what the criticisms are. As a person discovers what the self-attacks are, it is valuable to articulate them in the second person, as "you" statements. For example, instead of saying "I feel so lazy and useless," a person would say "You are so lazy. You're useless." When this format is used you are encouraged to express your critical thoughts as you hear or experience them, and this often leads to exploring the hostility that lies behind this self-attacking system.

Step Two: Recognising Where Your Voices Come From

After you verbalize your critical inner voices in this manner, you may feel deeply, and develop some insight into the source of your voice attacks. You have some clarity, as you begin to recognise that the content and tone of your voice attacks is old and familiar; your voices are expressing attitudes that may have been directed towards you as a child for example. I hear my clients say things like, "That's what my father used to say" or "That's the feeling I got from my mother," or "That was the atmosphere in my home." Recognising where your voices originate can help develop compassion for yourself.

Step Three: Responding to Your Critical Inner Voice

In the third step, you answer back to the voice attacks. People who have thoughts like, "You're so stupid. No one wants to hear what you are thinking. Just sit in the background and keep your mouth shut!" may respond with statements like, "I am not stupid! What I have to say is valuable and worthwhile. A lot of people are interested in me and care about what I think." After responding, it is important for people to make rational statements about how they really are, how other people really are, and what is true about the person's social world. They may say something like, "The world isn't a place where everyone else is brilliant and I'm the only stupid person. I'm not in school anymore; no one is marking me. The truth is that people aren't all that smart, and I'm not stupid. We are basically the same: interesting people who have interesting things to say about what they are thinking and experiencing."

Step Four: Understanding How Your Voices Influence Your Behaviour

After expressing and responding to the voices, you may be naturally curious and eager to understand how these patterns of self-defeating thoughts have influenced your past and impacts your present-day behaviors. For example, the person with the voice that he or she is stupid may recognise times when he or she acted less capable or confident as a result of having heard that self-attack. Having this understanding of how the critical inner voice has affected their actions is helpful when people want to change specific self-limiting behaviors.

Step Five: Changing Your Self-Limiting Behaviors

Once you have identified the areas in which you limit yourself, you can begin to change yourself. You can do this by taking two actions: to not engage in the self-destructive behaviour that is being encouraged by the critical inner voice and to increase the positive behaviours that go against the recommendations of the voice. For example, a person who is shy can stop avoiding social interactions and can make a point of striking up conversations with people.

Strange as it may sound, identifying and countering critical inner voices can be harder than it seems. With change comes anxiety and getting rid of an inner critic is no exception. Often, when people begin to challenge their negative attacks and act against their directives, the attacks grow stronger and more intense. There are people who have gotten used to their critical thoughts and, although unpleasant, they are comfortable "living with" them. Some people mistakenly believe that their critical inner voices are what keep them in line, so they fear that if they try to change them they will act badly. However, the more people act against their critical inner voice, the weaker its influence on their lives becomes. If they stick it out and follow the steps above, people become more themselves and are able to achieve goals and live free from imagined limitations.

It is important to remember this process takes time and energy so be patient.