That little voice inside your head that readily reminds you of your failings and just as readily dismisses your achievements is what is known as the ‘inner critic’.
The inner critic is a harsh judge of everything you do.
It tells you that other people are smarter, funnier and more attractive than you are. That you’re not young enough, smart enough, creative enough or basically, just not good enough.
Often the messages are the same as those you heard early in life from parents, siblings or teachers.
These early judgements were designed to teach you how to behave appropriately and stay safe in the world but they often left you feeling that you were wrong. Some judgements were overt, others implied. Just the raising of an eyebrow may have been enough to let you know that something wasn’t approved of.
The impact of such criticism is that you modify your behaviour to fit with the expectations of others. In turn, parts of your natural personality are put aside and others that you identify as more acceptable become your prominent ‘primary selves’.
Hal and Sidra Stone, authors of Embracing Your Inner Critic look at the various ‘primary selves’ that we commonly develop in childhood. Along with the inner critic, these might include the pleaser, the rule maker or the perfectionist. When we identify with these selves we often disown other parts of our personalities. The pleaser, for example, learns to smile and make others happy in the world and it might be responsible for the disowning of an angry or assertive self.
As well as teaching us to recognise the work of the inner critic, the Stones introduce us to the ‘aware ego’. The aware ego is not a self. It is the wise and adult part of your character that is able to step back and observe the other selves without judgement. From this place, you can begin to harness the critic’s energy so that it becomes a support in life rather than a debilitating force.
Having an inner critic is not all bad – it can have a valuable place in your life.
Your critic wants you to succeed and helps you to avoid inappropriate behaviours. But it usually doesn’t know when enough is enough and an overactive critic can cause you to feel anxious and depressed.
If we also learn to engage the voice of the aware ego, we can observe the critic and the other selves that inhibit us from being fully alive in the world.
5 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic
1. Pay attention to the judgements you make about yourself and others. Try not to judge the fact that you’re being judgmental – for now, just notice that it’s happening.
2. Aim to become more accepting of people (including yourself) just as they are. Find a mantra that makes room for acceptance such as ‘everyone’s different’ or ‘that’s an interesting perspective’.
3. This week, notice one of your inner critic’s most common messages and actively reframe it. For example, ‘I’m not smart enough to succeed in this role’ could become ‘I’m learning something new every day and I’m ready to step up to this challenge’.
4. Connect with the aware ego self and have an internal conversation with the inner critic self. It might simply be that your message is ‘Enough!’
5. Bring one of your disowned selves to life – maybe the assertive self or the light-hearted self. Even if you’re not completely comfortable, try operating from that place for a few hours and see how it feels.
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