Sometimes it is the voice of a specific person, a parent, a teacher, an aunt. Think about that itch in the throat that one gets when you have the urge to cough and which persists until we cough, oftentimes in places and at times that are most inconvenient. So too the inner critic is inconvenient. It sabotages us and seems to have a knack for appearing when we most need our confidence to be intact. That job interview (‘Who wants to hire you… you have no idea what you are doing’), or that presentation (‘You are going to forget everything you want to say and embarrass yourself’), or that party that you have been looking so forward to (‘You are so fat and ugly… no-one at the party is going to want to talk to you. Why bother going?’). What about that new relationship you’ve just started (‘Who are you kidding… no-one will ever love you’). Making new friends at a meet-up? (‘You are always doing and saying the wrong thing… you are such a fool’).
Sometimes we convince ourselves that we need the inner critic to ensure that we are progressing and not resting on our laurels. Some clients counter my suggestion of turning down the volume of the inner critic with, ‘What if I become lazy and stop trying my best?’ ‘How I am still going to be my best me if I am not hard on myself and pushing myself?’ Here’s the problem with this way of reasoning… we are presupposing that we will only succeed if we have the demeaning harsh voice ‘encouraging’ us and ‘egging us on’. If we follow this line of reasoning, we are effectually saying that we will only lose weight if we keep reminding ourselves of how fat or ugly we are… that we will only succeed at something challenging if we keep reminding ourselves of how incompetent we are… that we will only maintain a relationship if we remind ourselves of how unlovable we are. Hence, in the quest for success, we are slowly but surely eroding our self-worth.
Unfortunately, the inner critic can also rob us of the joy and feelings of accomplishment of wonderful achievements… Always chipping in and comparing and highlighting shortcomings instead of savouring the moment. Think about that moment when you delivered that dreaded presentation and received high praise… The inner critic may pipe up with ‘You forgot a few key points, they might think it was good, but you know you are a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before they know too’.
The inner critic often operates from a place of fear or a need to exercise some sense of control. It convinces us that it has our best interests at heart, helping us to avoid disappointment and shame. It is often driven by fear of failure and can cause considerable anxiety which may in turn cause avoidance behaviour as we try to get away from that which makes us anxious. Ironic then as this would mean that the inner critic is not motivating us towards our goals after all.
Awareness: you cannot change what you do not know. Becoming aware of the inner critic, what it is saying and how it is sabotaging you is the first step in minimising its impact and quietening it. This requires tuning in to that inner voice which is mostly automatic chatter and out of awareness. Mindfulness, observing with compassion and non-judgmentally that which the inner critic is spouting, is an essential first step. I recommend writing down the critical chatter.
Stand up to your inner critic: once you have written down these thoughts, you are able to take an objective look at them. Seeing them on paper may make it easier to recognise the bully and may ignite within you a sense of self-protection, a need to defend yourself.
Counter with empathy: recognise that the inner critic thinks it is acting in your best interests by protecting you from possible rejection or failure. Let the inner critic know that you understand what it is trying to do but that you don’t need it as you are more than capable of managing life’s disappointments.
Reinforce your worth with self-compassion: recognise your worth and write down affirming statements. If this is difficult to do at first, it may be helpful to take a step back and ask yourself what it is you like about yourself and to even ask close others what they value in you. Use statements that positively reinforces your abilities and positive qualities.
Add a healthy dose of self-compassion: The use of self-compassion can be a stuck point for many especially when the inner critic is well developed. Think about counter statements you would say to a close friend and the convincing tone you would use when expressing these statements… now try them on yourself.
Wishing you well as you tune in to you and confront that inner bully!
For additional tips and inspiration, you can find us on Instagram @lighthousearabia.com. If you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing, please consider one of our free-of-cost Support Groups (view our Event calendar) or contact us for an appointment with one of our therapists on T. +971 (0)4 380 2088.