The inner critic.
The term used to describe that inner voice which judges, belittles, berates and attacks you. You know the one, yes?
The voice that will quite happily remind you of your mistakes and misdemeanors from the past. The voice that ensures that you compare your life to others – success, achievements, what they have, what you’ve not got. The voice that consistently reminds you that you are not okay.
The voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough and worthy enough … as you are.
It has – should you ever need it – a detailed blow-by-blow account of all your past failings and screw-ups (sometimes with a nice image to boot) neatly stored away ready to remind you whenever you want to listen.
It can tell you that your best is not good enough, so it sets for you such high standards and unrealistic expectations (perfectionism) that when you don’t meet them it dutifully reminds you of all the times in past when you didn’t make the grade.
It knows all your shoulds, can’ts, must do, ought-tos – like a spammer it keeps sending you the same emails over and over and over – it can feel like you can’t unsubscribe.
It knows the names that hurt you, learned from the past, all the left over emotional scars that you’ve picked up – thick, stupid, worthless, waste of space, fat, ugly, unlovable, [insert your own] – it latches on to the thoughts and beliefs you have about you.
It’s good at it’s job. Super effective – especially your self-esteem is already low in certain areas of your life – your inner critic has always ‘got your back’ to remind you when just aren’t making the grade. Don’t worry, it won’t let you forget.
It appreciates that you listen well, and loves it when you act upon it’s instructions as if they were true.
It loves a good story, but not a love story. It likes making them up about you. It takes some of your thinking and creates sweeping generalisations and distortions of your world and your place within it. It doesn’t matter whether these are true or not, it’s simply following the script of who you think you are deep deep deep down.
It’s can speak to you all through the day, and you might never hear it. You know it’s shown it’s face by the way you feel. Sometimes it’s hard to work out what is it’s voice and what is that of the usual chitter chatter in your head. Sometimes it shows you images. Stills. It’s so well woven into your thinking. Usually don’t know it’s wittering a away in the background.
It’s such a familiar voice, and yet a complete stranger.
It talks you down, not up.
It talks weaknesses not strengths.
It falsely accuses you and places upon you unreasonable demands that no human could meet.
It’s toxic. Poisonous. A weapon of healthy well-being destruction. Give it air time and it will play for you repeats and reruns of your own worst movies.
It adores the fact it’s words leave you utter helpless, and that you can’t find your peace when it’s around.
Popular opinion is you have to silence it, talk it down, ditch it. Or, embrace it, own it, make it your best friend, respect it?
How can you silence a voice that you aren’t aware of?
How can you talk it down when you don’t know how to speak compassionately to yourself?
How can you ditch a voice with kindness, when you have never spoke to yourself with loving kindness?
How can you switch from loathing to love, critical to compassionate, kicking to kindness if you don’t actually know what you’re dealing with?
Yes, you can change the thoughts you have – it will help – for a time. But your inner critic doesn’t start with your thinking, it starts with the negative identity you have about you.
It’s not ‘the inner critic’ it’s ‘your inner critic’. It belongs to you.
See, the inner critic didn’t just appear in your life one day when you weren’t looking.
You two go w-a-y back.
You grew up together.
You had the same parents/carers. You were both there when you took your first steps, the first bollocking you got, your first kiss, first crush, first love, first day at school, first job interview … and everything in between.
It probably wasn’t around much the first couple of years of your life. When it did pitch up, it didn’t exactly announce it’s arrival. It just moved in, shuffling in the back door. No invite was ever sent. Gatecrashing your party.
Like everyone else on the planet your inner critic showed up on the scene when you were being taught the rules you had to live by. Sometimes these rules were given to you very clearly. At other times you had to decipher what they meant.
You were taught by others – who also had this class in their own time, and their learning has influenced your teaching (good to remember that) – given instructions on what was right and wrong, what was lovable and what was punishable, what was acceptable and what wasn’t, what was good and what was bad.
For some of you, you may have been given mixed signals.
Perhaps one day you made people laugh when you accidentally dropped your dinner all over the floor you heard, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not your fault, it’ll clean’ but the next day when you did the exact same thing you heard, ‘You are so ‘effing careless, watch what you’re doing clumsy!’
You’ll forget the dinner on the floor as an adult, but your inner critic will remind you to not make mistakes unless you want to be viewed as clumsy and careless.
For some of you, you may have been taught you are your behaviour.
Exploring how electrical sockets work you may have tried to stick your finger in one. Instead of being given the stern warning of what could happen, you may have been told, ‘You are bloody stupid. Why are so daft?’
You won’t remember the electrical socket but you could be left with emotional residue and thinking (inner critic) that you can’t do anything wrong or people will think you are just stupid.
For some of you, you may have got repeated signals and messages telling you that you aren’t okay. You probably don’t remember learning how to speak, but someone somewhere probably got you to repeat words so you could learn them.
Repetition is key to learning and mastering a skill. It also works in advertising, how many jingles do you remember form TV adverts? What about TV shows.
The same technique – repetition – could have been used on you as a child messages need to be repeated over and over again until eventually you learn them. Maybe you got repeated messages and signals that you just weren’t good enough and not okay?
Are you rewarding your inner critic?
If I asked you, what does it feel like when you listen to your inner critic? I bet you would tell me you feel awful. And maybe a mix of helpless, scared, lost, fearful, afraid, anxious, angry, upset … we know how it feels when we are the mercy of that voice and we don’t like it.
We want it to stop and quickly.
However instead of using compassion, kindness and acceptance we feed and reward the critic by using it to make the feelings stop.
Say you are going for a job interview.
You feel anxious about it and you think, ‘Why bother, everyone is better than me.’
Your anxiety increases.
Instead of accepting that yes – of course – there will be people in the world who have may have stronger strengths in certain areas for this job. Instead of showing yourself compassion by owning and being proud of you do have and what got you the interview.
In pipes your inner critic, ‘There are better people than you, you’re right. Remember when you lost every race in your high school sports day? People laughed. Yeah, you were no good then, and no good now. Followed by, ‘No, you’ll never be ready, you are so lazy, you didn’t work hard enough at school, you flunked out of university, you were told you would never amount to much. Look, you aren’t much. Stay at home. Stick with what you know. Why put yourself through this, you never could get the words out, you won’t in an interview’ .
Making you more anxious.
You decide not to go.
Which reduces your anxiety immediately.
You have just rewarded your inner critic.
And it started at a belief you have about your identity, ‘Everyone is better than me’.
If I heard this I wouldn’t ask you to only change your self-talk (yet) or write an affirmation. That would be the equivalent of putting a plaster on a broken leg. Doing something, but not the thing that’s needed.
I would ask you, ‘Is that true, is everyone better than you? Better to or compared to what exactly?’ or ‘What evidence and proof do you have that everyone is better than you?’ or ‘Is it true that you know everyone?’
Because in the statement you had about you (everyone is better than me) sits a part of your identity.
All the inner critic did (it’s job) was provide you with the so called proof and evidence that what you thought about you, coming from your identity was correct.
My point, if you really want to silence and tame your inner critic, go to the source of where it originated.
The identity, not the thought rising form the identity.
In order to disarm the critic, before you silence it, talk it down, ditch it, embrace it, own it, make it your best friend, or respect it you have to know what you are specifically dealing with.
To really silence it get to know the difference between what is your inner critic and what is the everyday neutral chitter chatter self-talk. And this takes practice, and commitment.
Your critic for the most part is silent. You don’t know it’s done the rounds until you feel what you feel.
For the next week notice when your inner critic is in the room. Notice when your internal chatter moves from neutral into condemning.
Write down those thoughts you notice and are able to catch.
Is there a theme, is there a specific area/time of your life where your critic is most vocal (work, home, relationships, business, meeting people, being seen) – take a note of these, the theme and the area. What is the critic trying to hold you to? What’s it’s demand that you have to meet, or else? If you can, note down your answers to this, ‘Where, from whom, and what methods did I learn this?’
You do that, and I will write a post about how to disarm your inner critic with compassion and kindness.
Meet you back here in a few days.
PS: There as a group of us coming together in The Moxie Project, it’s where, for 6 weeks, you will undo the false stories and scripts you have about you. I would love you to come, I promise you will learn how to stop being so hard on yourself and how to practice self-compassion, not self-criticism.