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That Destructive Not So Little Inner Voice

No, you’re not hearing things — that voice telling you you’re not good enough, you should do more, or that no one likes you is usually coming from inside your own head. Too often our biggest critics are ourselves and that nagging inner voice can create a great deal of worry, self-doubt and trouble in a person’s life.

Although not a real voice, these persistent feelings of inadequacy and self criticism can be deafening and too often keep us from pursuing our dreams or achieving our goals. They can make us feel helpless and as though there is no possibility of living up to our own self-imposed standards, or what we think others expect. This can become a vicious cycle of mental gyrations — you should be this, you aren’t good enough, you can’t, etc.

Although we all occasionally deal with this critical inner dialogue, for some it becomes a regular battle. For these people the repercussions can have a huge impact on their life and happiness, often leading to problems with depression and anxiety.

Where Does This Negative Inner Voice Come From?

For many the roots of this destructive self-talk are in their childhood experiences. And, unfortunately, many times it’s parents or other authority figures who instill these thoughts and make them a prominent voice in someone’s life. 

Regular criticism and negativity at a young age can leave a permanent impression on a child. A child’s sense of identity comes partly from what the adults in his or her life tell them. Their own understanding of themselves is connected to who and what they’re told they are during their childhood years. 

For instance, a friend who works with children recently told me about a young boy whose response to doing anything incorrectly was tears, apologies, and repeatedly saying, “I’m a bad kid.” Clearly he didn’t determine he was a bad kid on his own, he had been told this by someone close to him. The likelihood that this boy will deal with self-confidence issues and a very loud and negative inner dialogue as he grows and through adulthood is strong. Even with intervention, combating the idea that somehow there’s something wrong with him and that he’s bad, will likely always be a struggle. 

It’s not always parents who create this insecurity though. Peers, experiences at school, teachers, or other family members can play a role as well, and many times it’s unintentional. An insensitive yet influential adult or friend can have a far greater impact on a child than they realize, especially if that child is highly emotional or overly sensitive to begin with. 

In adulthood that voice can be what keeps us from even having healthy relationships, or maintaining them at all. It may act as an invisible barrier to trying new things, reaching full potential, or enjoying life. 

How You Combat The Negative Voice

Although we may realize as adults that we are self-sabotaging ourselves with these negative thoughts, it can still be very difficult to let them go. Even with effort through therapy and learning how to reprogram thought patterns this struggle can still plague people throughout their lifetime. 

Combating the negative voice that tells says you’re not good enough, smart enough, or worthy of happiness begins with identifying a few things. Ask yourself the following questions to help you begin the process of overcoming your internal critic.  

  1. What is the voice telling you — that you’re lazy? Not as intelligent as others? Difficult to love? Dialing into the specific things that relate to the original criticism can help you isolate them from other areas of your life and begin to keep them from influencing those areas. 
  2. What was the origin of the voice? Was it a parent, teacher, or someone else? Being able to look back and consider who that person was to you and what they were like as an individual can help you achieve a new perspective about the validity of their criticisms. It could also be self-created as well.
  3. What would you say to their criticisms now? You may not ever truly be able to respond to them, but giving a voice to what the response should have been can help you regain a feeling of control. 

These steps are just the beginning of what is more than likely a long process in changing how you think. A loud, negative inner voice can be one of the most difficult personal obstacles to get past. Even as you work through things, there can be unexpected triggers that bring that voice right back. It’s for this reason taking time to develop the skills and tools needed to manage negative thinking is crucial. 

That Destructive Not So Little Inner Voice


Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching and writes a blog about the issues facing men (and the women who love them). As an expert in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today, he regularly appears on The Huffington Post, NerdWallet and PsychCentral. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their lives and relationships better. Check out his weekly tips on Facebook or Twitter.


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APA Reference
Smith, K. (2019). That Destructive Not So Little Inner Voice. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/that-destructive-not-so-little-inner-voice/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Oct 2019 (Originally: 21 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 21 Oct 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.