If you google inner critic what often comes up is “How to quieten your mind or how to quieten your inner critic," but I feel trying to push it down, not allow its voice to be heard is how it got so loud in the first place. We have allowed our inner critic to become our own judge and jury.
The voice can be harsh and unforgiving, it criticises our actions, doubts our abilities, and often leaves us feeling inadequate. Rather than trying to quieten the voice if we can befriend it and understand its actions then we can allow ourselves to change and grow.
Acknowledging Its Presence:
The first step in befriending our inner critic is acknowledging its presence. It's the voice that whispers doubts when we step out of our comfort zone or strive for something new. By recognising its existence, we can begin to understand its role in shaping our thoughts and behaviours. This is the first step to change.
Understanding Its Intentions:
Despite its seemingly harsh nature, the inner critic often arises from a place of concern and seeks to protect us from failure, rejection, and disappointment. It operates from a place of fear, aiming to shield us from perceived threats to our self-worth, it does this by highlighting our possible flaws and weaknesses. Understanding its intentions allows us to approach it with compassion rather than resistance. What is the fear? Why is it fearful?
Exploring Its Origins:
How did it come to be so cruel? It learnt lessons in childhood. It watched, listened and learnt how parents, family, friends, teachers spoke or behaved to themselves, to us, to others. There is no blame attached here, they had their own inner critics at work.
Every time we were told off, or told we messed up, or punished, without also receiving empathy, compassion, or a warm loving hug, our inner critic took deeper root.
This helps us understand the core themes of our inner critic- "be quiet, be helpful, be perfect, be a winner "What is your underlying theme? This helps us recognise the inner critic is not our voice but a reflection of external influences.
Get to know your critic:
It is easier to befriend your critic if you build up a picture of who they really are.
What is their name, age, sex, what do they look like, what phrases do they say? Draw them or describe them in detail. You can then ask them what is their purpose (to keep you from making a fool of yourself, to keep you safe??) Bring curiosity to their behaviour, underneath what is their heart's desire, what do they really want? Love, attention, to be seen???
By building a picture, by asking these questions we can begin to start a dialogue with our critic. Rather than letting them be judge and jury we understand the fears, show compassion and reframe them.
Reframe the narrative:
It is ok to be fearful of new situations but we can still step into that space. If your critic is trying to keep you small “Don’t even try for that new job you will never get it, there are better candidates, you will only fail” can you understand why the critic is saying that? Whose voice are you hearing?
Try reframing “ The job looks interesting and I have the skills to do it ( list your skills, build self esteem) it is scary to put myself out of my comfort zone but I want to do this, I have tried new things before and managed it. “
You will need to keep doing this, your critic has been in charge for years, reframing takes time and patience. We can nurture a supportive and encouraging inner voice that celebrates our successes and offers gentle guidance in times of challenge by constantly reframing.
At the core of befriending our inner critic lies the practice of self-compassion. It involves treating ourselves with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially in moments of self-doubt and vulnerability. Rather than succumbing to self-criticism, we learn to embrace our humanity, flaws, and all. More on self compassion can be found on Kristen Neff's excellent site.
Perfectionism fuels the inner critic, perpetuating unrealistic standards and unattainable ideals. None of us are perfect, we are all our own imperfect selves. Embracing imperfection invites us to celebrate our progress, honour our efforts, and acknowledge our inherent worthiness, regardless of external validation. We are enough.
Befriending our inner critic is a journey of self-discovery and self-compassion. By acknowledging its presence, understanding its intentions, and reframing its narrative, we can learn to express ourselves more authentically. Getting to know our critic will allow us to explore the impact our past has on our present and in turn this leads to acceptance, resilience, and growth in our lives.