Saying Hello to your Inner Critic
We’ve all got one. That voice inside your head that is quick to cut you down and put you in your place. Sometimes it’s for good reason; to keep you safe and from attempting things that truly are beyond your capacity to do. But most of the time, it’s simply a habit of letting your mind run wild and free with any negative thoughts that pop into your head. It’s time to take control of this inner dialog by getting up close and personal and saying hello to your inner critic.
The first step is to develop enough self-awareness to notice the voice of this adversary when she slyly whispers that you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, good enough or worthy enough to try something new or even embark on a journey toward moving toward your dreams. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can strengthen your self-awareness with this goal in mind. Let’s look at a few.
Write Your Inner Critic A Letter
Featured this week in the JMB Living Journal is “A Farewell Letter to my Inner Critic”, written and contributed by Anna Mia. I love this idea, as it may give you a way of better understanding how she (your inner critic) operates. Does she tend to be judgmental? Dismissive? Mean? These nuances may give you some ammunition for how to fight back.
For instance, if she pipes up with mean-spirited comments such as, “Why would you think you can do that? You are nothing but a big, fat, lazy slob.”, you can notice this for what it is - mean, nasty words and nothing more. Reframe the comment with something closer to the truth, such as “I know I haven’t had much energy lately and this has made it a real struggle for me to work out and even find the energy to do things I enjoy.” Or “ I’m doing the best I can and perhaps it is best to start small, find a new approach or get some support.”
Or perhaps her tone is more judgmental in nature. She may say something like, “You’ve been quick to give up on things in the past, what makes you think you’d stick with this?” In this case, reflect on the level of truth in the statement. It’s doubtful that you give up on everything. Look for evidence to refute the statement.
Is she dismissive? Notice this and recognize that everyone has value and deserved to be heard, listened to and loved. Slow down and allow yourself to think through a more appropriate response.
Name your Inner Critic
I’ve been reading Andreanna Limbach’s Tea and Cake with Demons: A Buddhist Guide to Feeling Worthy. In it she suggests giving your inner critic a name and a face. You could call her something like “Ornery Opal: ” or “Wicked Wilma”. Dress her up with a pointed black hat or bright red sunglasses and a polka dotted jacket. Or perhaps she’s a little more stealthy and you picture her dressed in a black leather jacket and dark shades, easily staying under cover. You get the idea.
The value in doing this is that it helps you develop a relationship with her, more easily recognizing her when she appears and allowing you to have your own inner dialog back, “Thanks for watching out for me Little Debbie Downer. I appreciate it and know you are just trying to protect me, but I’ve got this under control this time.”
Over time, meditation will help you begin to fully realize that the inner dialog is truly just words, not true authentic perspectives. And that just as you have the ability to focus and re-direct your attention, so too can you re-focus and re-frame this inner dialog when it goes in an unhelpful direction. You also begin to realize that lack of perfection is simply part of the human condition and begin to allow yourself greater self-compassion.
Practice Positivity with Journaling
Using a journaling prompt such as, “My inner critic thinks I am _________”, could allow you to dig a little deeper into your subconscious, exploring where these feelings come from and in the process possibly uncover limiting beliefs as well. With this exercise it is important not to use this as an opportunity to further criticize yourself. Rather think of it more an exploration of why you have felt this way and what other areas of your life may not be consistent with this.
Having a daily gratitude practice can help shift the auto narrative inside your head. Start not only including things and experiences you are grateful for, but also grateful thoughts about yourself, such as “While I didn’t work out today as I had planned, I’m grateful that I took care of my body by eating healthy.” or “I’m grateful for the patience I had today when I saw the crayon art my daughter had decorated all over the wall in the living room.” Over time, this practice will build more self-awareness and compassion gradually encouraging more default responses of positivity.
Using the Insights from these Exercises
As your self-awareness grows, your inner critic won’t disappear, but you can more easily recognize when she speaks and in the process, manage the dialog.
Here are a series of steps you could use when you recognize the voice of your inner critic spewing forth her negativity. See if you can:
1. Say hello to her.
2. Step back and observe the noise in your head as if you were someone on the outside looking in without reacting.
3. Take an objective viewpoint and formulate an objective response.
4. Choose to give yourself grace and self-compassion.
5. If lingering negative feelings exist, choose to simply feel them without judgment.
6. Again choose to give yourself grace and self-compassion.
7. Decide to move forward with self-asserted confidence (this could include making a plan of steps you can take to boost your confidence).