by Rebecca Olayiwola
“You’re so dumb”. “They don’t like you, stop talking”. “It’s not that good, you could have done better”. “You’re so weird”. These are just some of the words of the little yet loud voice inside of your mind. In psychology this voice is known as The Inner Critic or the Critical inner voice. This voice is your judge, it produces feelings of toxic shame, insecurities, guilt, and hurts your self-worth and confidence. Psychologists Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss wrote the book ‘Freedom from Your Inner Critic’, where they identify seven different types of inner critics:
- The perfectionist,
- The Inner Controller,
- The Taskmaster,
- The Underminer,
- The Destroyer,
- The Guilt Tripper,
- The Molder.
The book goes deeper into talking about how your inner critic is not your enemy, but it is actually trying to help you and keep you safe, in a counterproductive way.
Most of the time, to deal with the inner voice, we tell it to “go away”, “please shut up”, or as I used to call it a ‘Bitch’ out of frustration. That is what you think will make it go away, and it does for a while, then it comes back again even a bigger “bitch”. With our inner critic we tend to react to it with harsh words or yell at it, hoping that will fix it. It is like a crack in your house that needs fixing but you cover it with a painting. That would cover it for a while. But eventually the crack will begin to grow. To fix it, you need to look at it, see what it needs and take care of it. Same thing with yourself. You need to go home to your inner critic and see what he or she needs. It’s just like people who always criticize others. In many cases people who are like this have deep insecurities.
The negative things they say about others is just a projection of how they see themselves which reflects how they see the world. When you begin to understand people like this, you realise they need compassion. So does your inner voice. Go home to myself and embrace the inner voice. So here are three ways that have truly helped me transform the relationship I have with my inner critical voice.
Mindfulness is simply being aware of the senses of your body and mind in the present moment without judgement. You are not your thoughts. Therefore you are not the words of the inner critical voice. Think of them as voices from people you have encountered in your life. Whenever the voices arise, simply observe them. Watch the words and the tone of what he or she is saying. Don’t wrestle or fight the voice back. Listen to it without judgement. Do not take them as your own or internalise them. Let it be there and then let it go and re-focus back to the present moment.
Compassion means ‘to suffer together’. It is the capacity to replace judgement with a hug of understanding and kindness of another person’s situation. So self-compassion is to offer the same openness and understanding but to yourself. In a situation of suffering, where you have failed at something or embarrassed yourself during a situation and the Critical voice starts talking. You give self-compassion by stopping and recognising your humanness. You don’t judge or scrutinize yourself but you extend understanding and kindness because you are an imperfect human being who is trying their best with what they have been given. You do this by going home to yourself and asking yourself, “How can I be there for me right now?” Or ask yourself “How would I speak to a friend or a loved one?” Then give yourself that same caring wise advise. For example, when the inner critic says “ You messed up, like always”. You can talk back with kindness and say “Saying this does not help me or change the situation, I am happy I at least tried”.
Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that somehow it will help you stop beating yourself up
- Kristen Neff
Have a self-intervention
This exercise is one that truly changed the way I speak to my inner critic. In PhD Kristen Neff’s book ‘Self-Compassion’ she modelled an exercise created by Therapists Leslie Greenberg. The exercise involved pulling out three empty chairs. Label one chair as the voice of your inner critic, one chair as the voice that feels judged, and one chair as the voice of a wise, compassionate, understanding observer. The whole point of the exercise is to act as You, You and You. The chairs are a representation of different perspectives of parts of yourself.
Step 1. Begin with the chair of the inner critic and express yourself as the inner critical voice. Notice the feelings and the mean words this part of you says.
Step 2. Move to the chair of the judged aspect of you and truly feel what the inner critic has said to you and respond directly. Truly express how the words hurt or anger you/make you feel. Switch consistently between these chairs and have a dialogue between the two parts of you. Allow yourself to fully feel and be heard by both sides.
Step 3. Finally, move to the chair of the compassionate observer. Act as the therapist, and address the critic and the judged. Get in touch with wisdom and understanding part of yourself. Try to understand the two voices and what would the compassionate part of yourself say to the judged?
Once the dialogue is finished notice the insight that just happened and realise that those three chairs are all inside of you. You just have to listen to the part of you that’s wise, compassionate and understanding.