Worthful Blog

The Criticizer, the Criticized and the Observer

My favorite thing to do when I am not exactly how I want to be is to attack myself:

You're stupid. You're ugly. You're an idiot. You're worthless. You're unlovable.

Of course you screwed that up: you're you.

When those thoughts are typed out and read, it's fairly obvious those are very negative things for someone to tell themselves.

When they're in your head, especially in the heat of the moment, all they feel like are facts.

This exercise gives some insight into the things we're telling ourselves, and help recognizing how we berate ourselves.


The exercise was originally found at self-compassion.org. You can read it here, and I recommend you do. I'm going to expand upon this.

I find it extremely helpful to journal as I do this, because re-reading what was 'said' can also reinforce what you're saying to yourself.

Pause and listen to your inner dialogue. Split your thoughts into three voices/characters: the voice of the criticizer, the voice who is being criticized, and the voice of a neutral observer.

To do this, listen to the negative comments that come into your head. Rephrase them like spoken dialogue if needed:

"No wonder no one's loved you, have you looked at yourself?"

That's The Criticizer.

The Criticizer may be a feeling directed towards yourself: The Criticizer is outraged. The Criticizer is disgusted.

"I know. I shouldn't have eaten so much. I'm sorry."

That's The Criticized. The Criticized holds internal reactions to The Criticizer.

The Criticized may be also a feeling in reaction to The Criticizer: The Criticized is ashamed. The Criticized is sad.

The Criticized may be silent, unable to fight against The Criticizer.

"If I saw another person saying those things to someone, I would call them abusive."

This is the Observer. The Observer may not come up naturally.

Try to look at your thoughts from the view of an outside observer. The Observer notes the interactions between The Criticized and The Criticizer. The Observer reacts to what it is seeing.

The Observer may have an emotional reaction to a scene: The Observer is appalled. The Observer is happy. However, this is not a 'personal' reaction to words. The Observer only can react to observations. Reactions directly stemming from words are the voice of The Criticized.

The Observer does not try to correct or change anything.

It is the job of The Criticized to stand up for themselves. They need to explain that The Criticizer has hurt them. They may need to gain the courage to do this. That may take a while.

That's...weird.

Try it anyway.

The point of this exercise is to bring awareness to the way you talk to yourself. You are both The Criticizer and The Criticized. You are the one saying the things The Criticizer is saying. You are the one reacting and feeling the way The Criticized is feeling.

This exercise provides the insight to see that: you wouldn't let anyone else talk to you that way, so why do you talk to yourself that way? You wouldn't want anyone else to make you feel that way, so why are you hurting yourself?

Through this awareness, you can then tone down the hateful words you say to yourself. When you catch yourself calling yourself stupid, you can remind yourself you're not really stupid: you just made a mistake. Cutting back on the negative self-talk can help boost your self-esteem, and noticing your self-talk can help break you out of a negative mindset.