Have you ever seen those cartoons where the main character has a tiny little angel on one shoulder, and a little devil on the other? The angel is whispering encouraging and supportive words, “You got this – get back in there.” and the devil uses words that tear the person down or plant seeds of doubt “It's too late. What were you thinking – you’re just going to humiliate yourself – you don’t have what it takes.” It’s almost natural to listen to the inner critic, because those messages remind us of things we may have heard growing up – they are often ingrained deep in our minds. The good news is we are not stuck there. There are ways to transform this dynamic , and we'll cover a variety of them right now.
First thing to know is that we have many aspects or parts of ourselves, and the inner critic is only one part. It’s a noisy one and makes itself heard, and generally it may mimic the messages from our parents. The inner critic’s role when we were growing up was to keep us on task or to protect us from getting into trouble. Anything from “Don't go to that neighborhood. Don’t wear the white jeans – they make you look fat. Don’t join that club – you won't be happy...”
Dick Schwartz who developed Internal Family Systems -IFS suggests speaking to the inner critic part from a place of curiosity, asking it "Why are you working so hard to give me these messages?" The original intention was to protect you from being hurt, so you might even develop some compassion for this part. By creating this space, the Inner Critic part can soften. Because you’re not the same person now, and you are growing, how you deal with the inner critic has to grow too. So, what to do?
Awareness is key in working with it. Like “Oh, I can see my inner critic is in fine form and has a lot to say today.” Even consider giving your inner critic a nickname. Mine is “Matildaaaaah, and it’s pronounced exactly the way you read it!” Also observe what it is doing, and give that a name – is it catastrophizing? (As in this is never going to work. My mother was big into this one.) Is it personalizing? (I messed up a line in the presentation; I’m a failure, vs I made a mistake and will learn from it.) Is it mind-reading? (Assuming someone’s reaction without any evidence.) In that way you are observing it, and that makes you more detached, so that inner critic’s voice actually loses some of its charge.
Lessen Its Power: From Neuro-Linguistic Programming: NLP, there are ways to reduce the power of the Inner Critic: Pretend you have a large imaginary dial in front of you, and you dial down the volume of the voice so you can barely hear it. It loses its influence if you can’t hear it well. You can also put the voice farther away, so it sounds like its coming from a long distance – it becomes faint; it’s no longer whispering in your ear. This approach is not about putting an end to the sound of the inner critic, but rather taking control of it. This can be a useful tool in your toolbox.
Ask 4 Questions: The is from Byron Katie’s “The Work.” These deceptively simple questions can ignite a shift in record time:
2 Words to live by: There are two words that can change the way you walk through life. The first is self-compassion – meaning talk to yourself as you would a good friend. Whenever you catch your inner critic in action, and that voice can be brutal, switch it up to a kinder tone, like what you’d say to your best friend. Go from “You’re not good enough to…” fill in the blanks, to “It is challenging, but you’ve done hard things before – you got this.” Become a coach instead of a critic.
The second word is gratitude. If you’re feeling worn out, or like your energy is low, just remember, “It could always be worse. Gratitude for being here now! I have a dear friend who has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, who miraculously found a new drug that has given him a new lease on life. He's discovered that there is so much that you can do, so many moments to appreciate. Not everyone gets that opportunity.
The Inner Critic is alive at every stage, but as we get older, there’s a real opportunity to disarm the “Inner Meanie” aspect and come into a greater state of inner peace. We’re always evolving. By accepting the inner critic as a vestige of the past, as we accept our true Selves more unconditionally, as we learn to love ourselves for who we are and who we are not. The inner critic is replaced by our inner ally. Our true Self gets to shine more, so rather than expending effort to deny or reject the inner critic, we can accept that as just another part of the whole.
That is called liberation. And that is my wish for you…
Which strategy would you be willing to try?
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