The critical inner voice, inner judge, Gremlin, doubting voice, whatever you like to call yours, if it
try's to prevent you from succeeding its time to turn the volume down.  This internal voice drones on and on telling us we are not good enough, are not doing something well enough or can't do something.  It also barks orders at us about what we should be thinking, doing and feeling and can be a constant guilt inducer if we dare to disobey. 

Internal dialogue runs in our auditory system enabling us to rehearse debates, rehear speeches, make up replies or talk things over with ourselves.  The downside is that most of us have a critical inner voice that can hamper our efforts.  When we mess up it can be mild ‘oops, never mind you’ll do better next time’, more unhelpful and critical ‘you fool’, even harsher ‘you total idiot’ or generalize unreasonably, ‘you are always useless you will never be any good at anything’.  Critical inner voices may have a positive intent for us, but the reality is that we can be left feeling de-motivated and upset as we become our own worst enemies.  This article will enable you to make positive changes in this area.


We use two mental processes that can effect us:

  • Visual – making internal pictures of ourselves failing or messing up.
  • Auditory – hearing an internal voice that reminds us of what we are doing, have done, or are going to do wrong.

 For the purposes of this article we will focus on the auditory element rather than mental images, which will be discussed in another article on site, coming soon.


One client came to me because she felt anxious about making a presentation.  We discovered that she was making pictures of herself getting up in front of a group looking nervous and making a fool out of herself.  During her last presentation she had answered one question in a way that she was unhappy with and although a number of people commented on how good her presentation was, her internal voice continued to taunt her about the one answer she was displeased with.  Her internal voice kept repeating a usual pattern of, ‘you stupid ………..,’, ‘how could you have said …………….’.  It was no surprise that she was nervous when she went to present, her brain was showing and telling her how useless she was going to be!  By changing the visual and auditory elements she was able to present confidently and with enjoyment.

 Another client of mine had been feeling down and depressed and we found that he was working the two processes above very well indeed.  First he made pictures in his head of all the things he did not do well and then he would comment internally to himself on what an awful person he was.  People who feel happy and self-confident have a very different process going on.  They make big internal pictures of what they have done well and their internal voice congratulates them on their success, supporting and encouraging them in the future.  Imagine if you practiced this change for seven days, how different would you feel?

 There are a number of ways in which our critical inner voice can be troublesome:

  • Judge, blame and criticize yourself
  • Judge, blame and criticize others
  • Analyze everything, saying something like – ‘what’s really going on here is ….’
  • Presume a negative future – ‘You’ll never be able to …………’ 


 You might be familiar with the following statements that people often say to themselves:

  •  ‘I can’t believe you just did that again’
  • ‘You should have done better’
  • ‘I’m so useless’
  • ‘You stupid idiot’
  • ‘You always screw up’
  • ‘You’re crazy’
  • Add some of your own here………………………………..

 Consider for a moment the statements above.  If a drunk in the street shouted these accusations and insults at you would you take them seriously?  If your friends said them to you how would you react?  If somebody said them to your child how would you respond?  These are the kind of accusations and insults you give yourself every day, probably without a moments thought.  Few people would accept these criticisms under any other circumstance, but when experienced from their own inner voice they feel the content has some power over them or that the critical information needs to be heeded.


 Give your internal voice a name, make it a funny one that makes you smile or chuckle when you refer to it.  Then imagine what it would look like and draw a picture of it?  The idea of this is that you make it a silly character that makes you laugh.  If your imagined Gremlin is large shrink it down to about 3" tall.  If it has a nasty expression, paint a clown face on it or put a red nose and a Santa beard on it, whatever makes it look silly.  Put it in a tutu, have it wear roller skates that makes it fall over.  

 If your gremlin shouts or keeps going on and on, put a zip on its mouth like the Zippy character out of Rainbow.  Make it sound silly, ever heard someone talk after inhaling helium from a balloon? Try holding your nose and saying the horrible things your internal voice says to you, can you really take those words seriously now?

 Do anything you like, play with this, but make it silly, funny and humorous.  Does it remind you of a cartoon character for instance?


 Our internal dialogue often makes statements with a tone of complete certainty.  Break this pattern by introducing doubt into the statement and say it in an uncertain tone.  'You are such a clutz' can be said with the certainty of the statement 'The sun will rise tomorrow' or with the uncertainty of the statement 'I would like to take a sip of water from the goldfish bowl'!





 In order to reduce any critical internal dialogue, we must first become aware of it.  Each time you catch yourself speaking negatively to yourself, write the thought down then, read it back to yourself out loud.  Now apply the following questions to the statement:

 Would I be happy for other people to read or hear the things I say to myself?

 If not, why not?

 Is this internal dialogue that you use on yourself acceptable?  Useful to you?

 If you think that your inner critical voice is more unhelpful to you, you might find the exercises below very useful.


Identify any thought that leaves you feeling negatively and circle on the scale below the emotional impact it has on you:

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

Feeling fine                                   Feeling neutral                              Feeling very upset



When you listen to the negative thought inside your head, note down how it sounds to you, is it:

 Slow or fast?

Loud or soft?

Is the tonality harsh, sneering or sarcastic?

Is the voice male or female?

Someone else’s voice or your own?

Now, time for some NLP based fun exercises that will help you to feel good, as you reduce the negative hold these thoughts have had on you in the past.


 As you experiment with the following suggestions notice how your emotional response to the critical inner voice changes using the scale above:

  •   SPEED – Speed up the voice or slow it right down.  Similar to when you change the speed on a record player.
  • VOLUME – Make the voice softer.  Imagine a radio and notice that the dial controls the volume of your inner voice, notice how the inner voice becomes softer as you turn the volume down, and how it turns off when the dial clicks.
  • TONE – Say the words the critical voice is saying in the voice of a cartoon character who’s voice makes you laugh e.g. Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.  Say it in a seductive or doubtful tone.  To access a doubtful tone, imagine saying ‘I would love a sip of water from that goldfish bowl!’  Imagine someone saying the statement after inhaling helium.  Try holding your nose and then saying it.
  • RELOCATE – Have the inner voice move out of your head down to your elbow, now hold out your arm and imagine a miniature funny character sitting on the end of your thumb.  Now move the inner voice into the character and imagine them saying the critical statement to you in their silliest voice from there!
Which changes made you laugh?  Which changed your emotional response to the words of your inner voice?  Can you really take any of these words seriously now?  Once you have identified which one or combination of these changes has the greatest positive impact on you, use the same one/s to change all your other negative thoughts.



  • Identify the critical words you are saying to yourself, and take note of the qualities of your inner voice as in exercise 1.
  • Note down the emotional impact the thought has on you, using the Emotional Impact scale above.
  • Have the voice move to where your normal speaking voice operates from.  Feel the voice in your chest, throat and mouth, and say the words out loud.
  • Notice any differences.  Is the voice slower or softer.  Is the tone more friendly? 
  • Now say the thought to yourself again and note down the emotional impact it now has on the Emotional Impact scale.  You will likely find that your negative feelings have reduced dramatically.


 You might like to imagine where these techniques could be useful in the future.  Imagine being in a situation where your critical dialogue would normally have caused you to have a drop in confidence.  Using the exercises above notice how much more confident and calm you are.  You will be surprised at how easily the new positive feelings transfer from your imagination into the situation in reality.



If you find that a critical voice statement is still troublesome after using the techniques above, it may have a positive intention it is unwilling to let go of.  We can now negotiate with the voice to determine a more useful way of achieving the positive goal.


 Ask your voice what it is trying to do that is positive for you.  Common responses include:

‘I want to stop you making a fool of yourself’

‘I want to motivate you’

‘I’m trying to get you to do the right thing’

‘I’m ensuring you don’t feel bad’


When you hear a positive intention you completely agree with, thank the inner voice for its assistance, insight and cooperation.  Notice how the voice may be causing the opposite of its positive intention e.g. criticising you might lead you to stop trying, rather than finding positive and encouraging ways to improve and succeed in any particular situation.  Now ask your inner voice, if a better way of achieving that same positive goal but in an easier and more helpful way could be found, would the critical voice be willing to make the changes to enable you to try out the new behaviours over the coming weeks.


 The critical voice can hardly refuse this enticing offer and when agreement is made, access your creative part and keep accessing it until you generate as many useful and helpful ways to achieve the positive goal as possible.


When you and the critical voice agree on the best alternative behaviours, imagine using them in situations that you have had trouble with in the past.  Notice in the future situations how much easier it will be, and how much more calm and confident you are.


Critical voices can be troublesome but are not quite the same as obsessive thoughts.  One difference is that people are generally aware of obsessive thoughts and attempt to resist them coming to their minds.  We all have obsessive thoughts at one time or another but when they are particularly frequent or persistently bother us, help can be required.


To understand why we might experience thoughts (whether in image or internal dialogue form) of something awful happening, we firstly must understand how thoughts work.  I regularly see clients who are or have been ashamed of thoughts that have popped into their heads, a common form that people chastise themselves for having are thoughts that involve them harming themselves or somebody else.  These clients rarely consider on a conscious level these events actually occurring in reality and have no intention on acting on their thoughts, but still they feel awful for their occurrence and beat themselves up about having them.  

 If we believe that HAVING a thought is as meaningful as acting on that thought, then this reaction is understandable.  In fact our society actually promotes this idea, with the church in particular advising members that ‘evil’ thoughts come from evil spirits or the devil etc.  Some well meaning but misguided therapists may also refer to ‘bad’ thoughts as representing our ‘dark side’, and treat most thoughts whether consciously, or unconsciously in dream, as having some deep meaning, this is actually rarely the case.

 Some thoughts are as automatic as breathing, we can’t stop them and we can’t control what they are or how they are presented to us.  If you believe that you can control your thoughts, simply sit in a silent room and try to clear your head of all thought for around 10 minutes  You will find that there is a constant chatter going on in your head (think of it like static on a television station that has not been tuned) that you are barely aware of, and that the more you try to clear your mind, the more you notice thoughts just popping into awareness.  We can with practice at meditation make clearing the mind an easier task, but this takes persistence and an awareness and acceptance of the automatic nature of thought from the beginning.

There are two types of thought processes:

  • Conscious – purposeful consciously driven thoughts where we decide to think about or analyze something.
  • Unconscious – automatic thoughts, the type that spring to mind and go on in the background constantly.

The full realization of the unconscious practices of our minds comes to us of course through our dreams, where we may experience many exciting, bizarre or nightmarish thoughts.  We would not think of ascribing the same meaning we may derive from consciously occurring thoughts to these dream thoughts, that occur whilst we are asleep.  For example, if we dreamt that we had won the x-factor, we would not expect to be able to sing professionally on waking, and if we dreamed we won the lottery we would not expect to collect the jackpot when we woke up!  If we dreamed that we had harmed ourselves or others we would probably consider it a nightmare but would not necessarily ascribe any meaning to the dream, and we certainly would not blame ourselves for having it.  Believing that we have any more control over our automatic thoughts when we are conscious and awake, than when we are asleep and unconscious is simply unrealistic. 

 Now, when those thoughts become conscious and we become aware of them that is when we can have some control over them, and take responsibility for our reaction to the automatic thought.  The thought itself is immaterial, it is what we do with the thought when it is presented to our conscious minds that determines who we are.  We can choose to ascribe meaning, or not, we can choose to act on a thought, or not, and we can choose whether or not we feel good or bad about a thought.  We can also reframe our experience of ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ thoughts when we look at how others have used their experience in a positive way.  For example, Stephen King has used thoughts and dreams to stimulate his imagination, writing some of the best horror stories, and making a lucrative living in the process.

The NLP techniques above for dealing with critical inner voices can be easily adapted to working with obsessive thoughts, and are very effective for the majority of my clients.  I have also found the CBT techniques below very useful.



Resisting thoughts is generally counterproductive, often resulting in the obsessive thoughts become more frequent.  By allowing the thoughts to pass naturally through your mind, and fully understanding the above information that your thoughts bear no reflection on you or your character, they should quieten down very quickly.  If not you can move onto some exposure and prevention techniques below.


 Often the easiest way to stop thoughts becoming obsessive is to expose yourself to them more frequently instead of trying to resist them.  Think the obsessive thought over and over, or write it down and read and reread it over and over until you become bored of it.  Continue this exercise on a daily basis for seven days and you will notice dramatic improvements.  Try this first on a thought that is least offensive to you and relatively easy to work with, as you gain confidence in the method take on the increasingly offensive thoughts.


 If you worry a great deal and it is difficult to isolate any particular obsessive thoughts, most people find setting a time aside to worry very helpful.  Pick a particular half-hour worry time every day, make this at the same time, sit on the same chair and for the entire time think about nothing but your obsessive thoughts.  Every time your mind begins to wonder bring it back as quickly as possible to the worries.  You can reduce this time over the weeks as you feel it is helping you to be worry free at other times more and more.


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