How we can alter our inner critic to become more compassionate and kind to ourselves.
We all have the inner critic.
It’s a loud voice that makes us feel rubbish about ourselves and can keep us from achieving our goals. Who needs it? All it does is fill us with self judgement, self doubt and erodes our self esteem.
And actually, how much should we believe that inner voice. It mostly lies, and 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.
Other sources of the inner critic can come from teachers, peers or people that you work with.
What lies beneath our thoughts? Here are some examples:
“You probably won’t get the job. I’m not sure why you are even bothering. You aren’t capable even if you did. You have failed in the past so you are sure to fail again” Fear of failure is beneath this thought and others similar to it.
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. Challenge the critical thought and look at times when you have succeeded. Look at evidence that supports all of your many successes. Be kind to yourself.
“You seriously aren’t wearing that dress to the party. God, you look terrible. Mutton dressed as lamb. There will be loads of young, sexy people there. Why are you even going?” Vulnerability and fear that you are getting older might lie beneath thoughts like this one.
Maybe you feel exposed and fearful of other people’s judgements. Have you been judged in the past? What did that person mean to you? How much did that judgement matter and why? What lies beneath that fear of being judged?
What can we do to silence the inner critic?
First we have to NOTICE what the inner critic is saying to us. Becoming aware is the first step towards silencing the critic.
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.”
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 what challenging thought might you have you to shut that parrot right up! Dialogue with it!
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? More than likely 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.”
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.
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; we become anxious, restless, ruminate, and beat ourselves up. Our stress levels increase and over time we can become depressed.
To counteract this we can turn on our soothing system (think about the soothing and caring that humans 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 more kindly towards yourself.
All of this is a 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.