I have an inner critic. We all do. My inner critic can be really harsh (and disapproving like the cat in the picture!!) and if I listen to her, can give me a really hard time and pile on the guilt. However, she is also really helpful for helping me see where there might be challenges, where I have gone ‘wrong’ and what I need to do to get back on track. So today I wanted to share with you some ideas to find balance and harmony with your inner critic.
Inner Critic vs Inner Nurturer
First up, let me take a step back. We actually have two inner voices, one is our inner nurturer; this is the voice that lifts us up and encourages us to be self-compassionate. The other, as I have already mentioned, is our inner critic. You will likely already be familiar with that voice. This is because, for many people, this is the voice we listen to. The inner critic is big and powerful, it piles on the shame and the drip, drip, drip of unkind words and it can be so loud that it drowns out the inner nurturer.
The inner critic also has the power to make us feel constantly anxious. It may incessantly spot and point out danger, both to our physical and psychological health. It may catastrophise, exaggerate, magnify the bad and minimise the good in our lives. It may engage in paranoid mind-reading and attributing bad motives to other people’s words and actions.
Restoring the balance between your inner nurturer and your inner critic
The good news is that it’s possible to restore some balance with your inner voices. The first step is to observe how your inner voices operate. What do they say? What kind of tone do they have? Do they constantly repeat the same thing? Are they full of doubt, fear, anger? Are they in proportion to whatever just happened? Maybe they telling you that you’re not enough? that you’re a bad person?
Once you have done some observation you can attach labels to these interactions e.g. ‘self-criticism’; ‘shame and guilt’; ‘I am not worthy’. Reflect on how this self-critical voice came about. Does it sound like anyone you know? When you listen to the voice objectively you can take a step back from it. This can stop you from reinforcing it and helps you to stop identifying with the criticism. I read once that the first judgement of something is your inner critic, your second thought is what you really think. By observing the inner critic objectively you can hear what they are saying but you don’t have to be what they are saying. You have a choice. This approach can make the voice of your inner critic less intense and more reasonable.
You can use your inner nurturer as a refuge and an ally when the inner critic gets going. The inner nurturer is protective, encouraging and shows you unconditional love, especially when other people (or you) are critical of yourself. It can be a major source of resilience and confidence.
Coaching exercises for your inner critic
There are some coaching exercises that you can do to rebalance and/or acknowledge your inner critic. Here are my top five:
Creating an inner boardroom
One of the exercises I recommend to my clients is creating a boardroom inside yourself. Each character represents a different kind of support and wisdom. My boardroom includes my partner and kids, my aunt, some close friends, fictional characters such as Dumbledore and even Mother Nature! Choose whoever resonates with you!
Challenge your inner critic
Write down one of your critic’s most common comments e.g. ‘you are unworthy’ and then write down three or more believable counter-arguments e.g. why you are worthy (because everyone is!). Visualise your boardroom characters sticking up for you and listen to them, not your critic. There are a few options here: you might recognise the criticism as untrue e.g. this is what so-and-so used to say and it wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. you might acknowledge that there is a grain of truth to what the critic is saying but most of it is unhelpful. If you are a Harry Potter fan you might use ‘Riddikulus’ and change your inner critic into something silly or ridiculous like a cartoon villain.
Reframe how you see yourself
- Who do you consider to be a good person? Notice how often you see good qualities in other people, even in people you don’t know very well. Now turn that strength to yourself - remember that most people are like you. We are all basically good people. Think about what a friend might say about you and what they might say to you right now.
- Can you see yourself the way others see you - as a good and worthy person? Most people struggle with this but I would argue that if it’s OK to recognise basic goodness in others then why not recognise it in yourself?
- Notice the times you are kind, that you are friendly to other people, those times you do your best or admit a mistake. Note them down if you want to.
- Regularly take time to be aware of your innate value. Let it fill your mind and sink in. I love to do a loving-kindness meditation to do this. Know that you are a good person.
Befriending your inner critic
Another option is to befriend your inner critic. If you choose this option then I encourage you to think about a situation where you’ve judged yourself or someone else very harshly. Once you have a situation in mind, write a letter to your inner judge, acknowledging that is simply trying to keep you safe. You can thank your judge for their care and appreciate their good intentions whilst also acknowledging whether or not you will follow their advice. As in the rebalancing exercise, you have a choice.
Self-critic job description
This is a fun one to do! Write a job description for your inner critic, including its core responsibilities, duties and skills. The idea behind this exercise is to reduce the effect of your inner critic by observing them rather than identifying with them (as per the exercise above). In this manner, you can use them to help you e.g. to identify risks, threats etc.
Let me know how you interact with your inner critic.