Start Treating Your Inner Critic as a Friend, Not a Foe
“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.” ~ Kristen Neff
Isn’t it true that in daily conversation, when you talk about yourself, you use the pronoun “I”? That’s the normal way of talking about yourself: “I went to the store.” “I heard you.” On the other hand, doesn’t your inner critic accuse with the pronoun “You”? “You’re so stupid!” “You’re a mess!”
What do I mean by inner critic? It’s that negative voice in your head. She wants “you” to pay attention to her, but you really don’t want to hear what she has to say. What a battle. No wonder it’s called an inner conflict.
We aren’t born with an inner critic that tells us “You’re stupid!” “You’re a mess!” But over your lifetime you have received negative feedback – from a parent, sibling, teacher, or peer. As a result, your inner critic is just parroting it as truth, because you haven’t told her anything differently.
It’s important to realize that your inner critic is a part of you that is trying to keep you safe: safe from judgment, safe from failure, safe from disappointment. Just safe.. It resides in your vulnerability, where it really hurts. But when you examine that vulnerability with mindfulness, you can thank your inner critic for a job well done.
Does that advice surprise you? You might think the answer is to ignore your inner critic. But that doesn’t work, does it? The reason for this is as I’ve previously discussed, inner conflict is the result of our subconscious parts not working harmoniously together.
The good news is you can create internal harmony with your inner critic with practice and patience.
When your inner critic is trying to get your attention, instead of ignoring her, try the following 8 steps:
- Slow down using mindfulness to be aware of, and present with, an inner disturbance.
- Observe the self-talk.
- Externalize and personify the inner critic.
- Join the inner critic energy.
- Dialogue with the inner critic as “WE”.
- Practice acceptance, non-judgment, and self-compassion.
- Watch the inner critic lose its energy and intensity.
- Move forward together in a collaborative partnership
To illustrate how these steps work in real life I’ll share Tea Time exercise I often do with my clients.
When you’re in a quiet space, imagine you’ve invited your inner critic to Tea Time. She’s not your enemy, so welcome her to the table with open arms and a smile. Do some breathing exercises to remain calm.
As you sip your cup of tea, engage your inner critic in a conversation, such as the following:
Your inner critic begins: “You are so stupid!”
Nodding, you calmly change the “You” to “I”, and, without resistance, you accept what is said, asking for more information: “I am so stupid and…?”
Taken aback the inner critic says: “I just want you to know that I don’t like you right now.”
You respond: “Okay, I’m stupid and I don’t like myself, and…?
Deflated, because you’re agreeing, the inner critic says: “We need to fix this.”
You join with your inner critic, shifting to “we” as you further agree: “Yes, we need to fix this. What should we do?”
Your inner critic joins with you and suggests the course of action you know you need to take even though it may be painfully hard to do: “I need to go to my friend, swallow my pride, and apologize.”
Now that your inner critic has warned you of a problem, you’ve identified the discord – the fight between knowing what you should do and feeling fear in doing it – you can master your inner game. Your course is set. You prepare what you want to say to your friend to repair and regain harmony in your friendship.
Internal conflict will seldom be that easy to resolve, especially if the negative talk originated with someone you love and is deeply ingrained. Once you know the steps involved in this process, you can calmly have this conversation with yourself about anything.
You’ll often find that the criticism can be changed to inner strength. Here are a few examples…
- From: “You’re too sensitive!” To: “I don’t take myself too seriously, and I have compassion for others.
- From: “You’re so gullible!” To: “I’m glad I’m not jaded and I have innocence still.”
- From: “You always procrastinate!” To: “I don’t have to be in a rush. I can live in the moment, enjoy it, and plan out what’s most important for me right now.”
Joining with your inner critic requires practice. It may even require the assistance of a trained professional, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s no shame in that.
Would you like more help making friends with your inner critic? I’d love to show you how you can use my Tea Time Exercise in greater depth. Please contact me and schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype). Let’s sit down and have a cuppa.