We all have an inner critic.
It’s a loud voice that makes us feel rubbish about ourselves and can keep us from achieving our goals. It fills us with self-judgement, self-doubt and erodes our self-esteem.
How much should we believe that inner voice? Are the things that we say to ourselves facts? “I’m fat, ugly and useless. I’ll never get a boyfriend. I need to lose at least 2 stone and that’s impossible. I’ll never have a good career. I’m so stupid” And on and on. Harsh, isn’t it? When it comes to our inner critic it’s mostly lies. Our thoughts are just thoughts more often than not that are left over from messages from childhood. Do we need to listen to the critic? The answer is absolutely NOT!
The inner critic usually shows up when we are afraid, sad, or vulnerable.
Where does the inner critic come from?
Our survival as children depends on our parents. Think about how bad you felt when your parents were disappointed or angry with you. You might have done anything again to gain their approval. If your parents were often berating you, or you got a feeling of not being ‘good enough’ then chances are you would have internalised some of their messages. “If I get really good grades in English Dad will be so proud of me and love me.”
Other sources of the inner critic can come from teachers, peers, or people that you work with.
Maybe at some point in your past you have been told that you aren’t capable at achieving much. Maybe your parents weren’t supportive. You have internalised those voices and now you keep on beating yourself up and telling yourself that same story that no longer serves you.
All that you are doing is reinforcing a thought that isn’t true. We all fail at things at times and that means that you are human.
What can we do to silence the inner critic?
Firstly, we NOTICE what the inner critic is saying to us. Becoming aware is the first step towards silencing the critic.
1. We can name our critic and really get to know that voice. One of my clients gave his critic a name. When he started with the self-punishing thoughts, he stopped them in his stride by saying “Oh, here he is again. I’m not listening to you John. You are just thoughts that I don’t have to respond to.”
2. A good technique to quieten our inner critic is to imagine it as a poisonous parrot on your shoulder. Each time you have a thought that tells you that you are incapable, worthless or a loser imagine challenging the thought and shut that parrot right up! Dialogue with it! For instance:
Parrot: (Inner critic) "Hey, loser. Did you see how she looked at you? She was clearly thinking that you are not up to the job. You might as well not bother going for that promotion"
Self: "I don't know what she was thinking. She might have had indigestion for all I know! It can't hurt to try to go for the promotion. At least I'll have given it my best shot. I might even surprise myself and get it"
3. You could try visualising your inner critic as the scared and vulnerable child that he/she really is. What does he/she look like? What are they most afraid of? What do they really need from you? Chances are that the inner critic needs soothing just like a vulnerable fearful child would. Try it and see what happens. What happens if you say to yourself in a soothing voice:
“It’s okay to be afraid before a big interview. It’s normal to feel this way. You can only give it your best shot. You have plenty to bring to this job and you are incredible for trying.”
And this brings us to self compassion. Kristin Neff, author of Self Compassion, talks about WHY we turn inwards to criticise and berate ourselves. In her blog, Why we Need to have Compassion for our Inner Critic, Neff discusses the fight, flight, freeze response as being partially to blame for our inner critic.
Our threat response.
As humans we evolved the threat system alongside a soothing system. The threat system serves to keep us safe from harm and threat. This was useful hundreds of years ago when humans faced many threats to their survival.
However, it’s not so useful today as most of the threat we face today is a threat to our self-concept.
“ We confuse our thoughts and representations of ourselves for our actual selves, meaning that when our self-image is under siege, we react as if our very existence is threatened.” States Neff.
So, when we feel threatened by our very own thoughts we activate our fight, flight and freeze response. Our minds cannot perceive the difference between an internal (in our minds) and an external threat. We become anxious, restless, ruminate, and beat ourselves up. Our stress levels increase and over time we can become depressed.
Our soothing system.
To help us with this we can turn on our soothing system (think about the soothing and caring that human give to their young). We can become compassionate and caring towards ourselves which will take us out of the threat system and into the soothing system.
Speak kindly to yourself; think of the things that you might say to a friend or child, this will lower your cortisol and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This will decrease your stress levels and lower anxiety. You will notice that there is a softening of the judgement, anger and fear as you think kindly towards yourself.
Ways to speak kindly to ourselves could be.
"Well done for getting out and running in the rain. That was tough and I did well."
"I know I am struggling right now. That's absolutely ok and normal given the circumstances. If today is a hard day then tomorrow will be better."
"It's ok to cry and be upset. It's a normal human emotion. I'll give myself this quiet time to relax and not judge myself so unkindly. It's all allowed."
All of this is the first step towards getting rid of that negative inner critic that has been inside of you for so long and no longer serves you. Try it.
If you need help with your inner critic and with ways to become kinder to yourself and please reach out. I respond immediately to messages. Tel 07387570930 or email firstname.lastname@example.org