Learn to quieten your inner critic, the little voice inside your head that is always ready to remind you of your failings and just as readily dismisses your achievements.
Your 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 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. Before you can quieten your inner critic, you need to remember your ‘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’ which I like to call my ‘wise self’. This is the more adult part of you that is able to step back and observe the other selves without judgement. From this wise perspective, you can begin to harness the critic’s energy so that it becomes a support in life rather than a debilitating force.
Your inner critic 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 or even depressed.
If you also learn to engage your wise self, you’ll find it easier to observe and quieten the inner critic when it inhibits you from being fully alive in the world.
5 ways to quieten your inner critic
1. Pay attention to the judgements you make about yourself and others
All of us make judgements but the people who have the loudest inner critic often find that they’re more judgemental of others too. Try not to judge the fact that you’re judging but rather just start to notice when it’s happening.
2. Aim to become more accepting of people, including yourself
Remind yourself that human nature means we’re all imperfect and ultimately, we’re just doing the best that we can. Find a mantra that helps you make room for acceptance such as ‘everyone is different’ or ‘that’s an interesting perspective’ when you have a difference of opinion. Or even simply, ‘we’re all doing the best that we can with the information we have at this moment in time.’
3. Notice the most common messages and actively reframe them to help quieten your inner critic
Start to tune in to the negative thoughts you repeatedly have about yourself. They’re most easily recognised as some version of not feeling good enough. Then choose one of your inner critic’s most common messages, such as ‘I’m terrible in social settings,’ and find a way to reframe it. For example, you might say ‘I’m more introverted than some people so my preference is to catch up one-on-one.’
4. Connect with your wise self and have an internal conversation with the inner critic
Consider how the wise and compassionate parts of you might approach your inner critic with a sense of kindness and consideration. If you find this difficult to do as a conversation in your head, journal as though you’re conversing between your wise self and your inner critic.
5. Bring one of your disowned selves to life
You may find it helpful to engage your assertive or light-hearted self to balance out the voice of the inner critic. Even if you’re not completely comfortable initially, try operating from that place for a few hours and see how it feels.
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