Oh the inner critic. She can be, well, just a bitch.
The inner critic is this voice ringing in our head, usually one of a parental or influential person from our childhood mixed with a toxic cocktail of social conditioning. If we are not careful, we can be swallowed up by the stifling feelings caused by that record playing in our head. You know, the one belittling, judging, and constantly criticizing who we are.
Where Does the Inner Critic Come From?
You know her voice well. Step back for a second and take some inventory of your latest thought patterns. They may be something like:
“I’ve gained weight and look hideous in all of my clothes.”
“I’m terrible with money and will never get back on track.”
“I will never get that promotion because I’m not outgoing enough.”
“I’m too… fill in the blank here….chatty, shy, quiet, loud, annoying, awkward.”
“Who am I to start that business?”
“That thing I just said was so stupid.”
Ouch, really mean, right? And the interesting thing is that this voice is so so sneaky. She kind of starts gently and then ramps up so we really believe the things she tells us. Annoying right? But why does this bitchy voice inside my head get to dictate how I show up in the world? The good news is that she doesn’t have to.
You may be thinking. Okay, well I feel like she is ALWAYS there and I don’t know how to quiet her. Or she may be such a part of you that you have not even recognized her as an “other” quite yet.
The good news is that we didn’t actually come up with these thoughts or ways of being. They were projected onto us and then internalized when we were just wee little children. These are the limiting beliefs and inner voices of those around us. They were taught to us, which means they can be untaught.
The beautiful part of growing older is that we get to unlearn a lot of things we were taught when we did not have a choice in the matter. And as adults, we do. It takes time, objectivity, and lots of reframing, but we can actually learn to recognize, acknowledge, and not be near as impacted by that really mean, annoying voice in our heads.
But If I Don’t Push Myself, Won’t I Just Do Nothing…?
This is actually a misconception. When we are moving in self compassion, we can actually move from a more grounded, clear-minded space. Not to mention, our level of contentment and quality of life are much higher.
Tara Mohr is an author and coach who has done a ton of work around the inner critic. She has this beautiful chart in her book “Playing Big” that helps us recognize the difference between realistic thinking and inner critic. This is a really great jumping off point as we begin to take inventory of our thoughts.
How We Can Practice Quieting Our Inner Critic
There are a few ways to cultivate the practice of trusting yourself and quieting your inner critic, so you’re not being bossed around by that bitchy voice (that believe it or not is trying to keep you safe).
Take a little time to journal your latest thought patterns
When self deprecating thoughts come up, write them as you rather than I. This helps us to separate this voice as an other and not necessarily one with us. For example, You are so stupid. Or Why would you say that? What is wrong with you?
Read over these thoughts
Ask yourself if a friend talked to you that way, would you stay friends with them? Would you ever talk to a friend that way? It is interesting how mean we are willing to be toward ourselves, but are not willing to be this mean toward even a stranger (well you know, on most days!). We can begin to explore what it looks like to talk to ourselves like we would a friend.
Create an image in your mind of what your inner critic looks like, and then give her a name
My inner critic wears polka dots, has frizzy disheveled hair, glasses, and a clipboard. Her name is Falulah. Sometimes, I just have to say ‘Fuck Falulah’. And other times I talk to her and say, “Thank you for trying to protect me, but not today.” Giving your inner critic an image helps to separate her from you. Separating helps remind us that what she is saying is stemming from fear, not truth.
Self compassion is a key player when moving through the voice of the inner critic
This is actually how we counter her voice once we learn what the voice sounds and feels like. If we feel the record begin to play about how awkward we are, we can interrupt that thought with another thought. For example, “I showed up as myself and I like myself.”
Celebrate the victories… big and small alike!
Finish that book, celebrate. Give that presentation, even though your mind is picking apart every aspect, make the conscious choice to celebrate. Get out of bed and shower today, celebrate. Celebrating could look like a lot of different things, depending on the things that bring you joy. Celebrating could look like having your favorite dessert, a yummy adult beverage, a brisk walk at your favorite park, a long bath, going to bed early, making yourself breakfast and eating it in bed, buying fresh flowers, or a dance party. The possibilities are truly endless.
Carving out space to have self-loving celebrations makes our day-to-day life more fun and fulfilling, and it gives us the capacity to not only recognize those thoughts that are stifling us but also release their power over us.
Recognizing the Inner Critic in 2021
As we wrap up the whirl wind of a year, those voices can begin to ring even louder because the new year can be a bit weird.
“ I didn’t accomplish anything in 2020.”
“ I have no vision for next year”
“ I normally feel more grounded and goal oriented before the new year and this year I feel like a snail making it to the finish line.”
Our world was flipped up side down in 2020. Our bodies and our minds are doing their very best to process ALL that has, is, and will happen. That takes up a lot of energy, especially if you are a very strong, empathetic feeler. The important thing is that you’ve made it. And that my friends, is something to celebrate.
Recognizing and working through our inner critic thoughts is a practice similar to strengthening a muscle. You will make progress and then you will slip right into her web of lies. You will then get back up and continue to practice. Let’s step ever so gently into 2021 as we dismantle our inner critic by showering ourselves in love, celebrating that we have made it, and continuing on our journey one foot in front of the other. You are worth it. Godspeed.