We all have one. You know, that voice in your head that is quick to judge all the things that you’re doing wrong. It’s the voice of “not doing enough,” “not enough” and “too much.” The one that says you sounded like an idiot at that work meeting, or that you’re clearly a failure because you didn’t follow through on your goal of clearing the clutter off your desk over the weekend.
Sometimes the voice is loud and clear, like a bully that’s got a megaphone and too much time on its hands. Other times the voice is more subtle, showing up in tense shoulders and a tight chest, a hot feeling of shame that washes over you and makes you want to hide out in your bed.
So why the hell would we be talking about making friends with the inner critic? Why not fight back and banish it forever?
The truth is, the more we fight against the parts of ourselves that we don’t like or don’t want around, the more they fight back.
I often use the metaphor of trying to push one of those inflatable beach balls down under water – the harder you push, the stronger the beach ball pops back up. What if, instead, we could shift our relationship to the inner critic? What if we could even come to appreciate what it’s trying to do for us?
As it turns out, taking the “befriending” approach actually helps the inner critic relax and give us more space to focus on the things that really matter, like nurturing that creative hobby you’ve been putting off because the inner critic keeps telling you that you’re not “creative enough.”
Here are a few tips for shifting your relationship with your inner critic from enemy to ally:
Name it to tame it
Is it just one voice or many? What does it look like? Get curious about how your inner critic is showing up – you might even get an image of a cartoon character or a favorite bully from a TV show you love to hate. It can also be more abstract – maybe it shows up in a particular shape, color or sound.
When we give the inner critic an actual form, it begins to lose some of its power. It’s also a way to practice a fancy psychological term called “externalizing,” which basically means giving concrete shape to an abstract inner process. This can help give us some space from the emotional sting of the inner critic’s barrage of insults.
Acknowledge and validate your feelings
The fact is, our inner critics can be really good at getting us right where it hurts the most. They know our most sensitive and vulnerable places, and often put a ton of pressure on us. This can lead to all kinds of “big” feelings like shame, guilt, anxiety and hopelessness.
Just as we’re not trying to push away the inner critic, it’s also important not to push away the feelings associated with it. This is a great time to practice self compassion. Start by noticing where the feeling is showing up in your body, name that it hurts, send a message of kindness to it, and remember that you’re not alone in this experience of suffering.
Get curious about how it’s trying to help
At its core, the inner critic just wants to protect you from bad stuff happening. From a place of curiosity, you can begin to ask what your inner critic is afraid would happen if it stopped doing its job of reminding you of all the ways you’ve messed up.
Maybe your inner critic really wants you to make sure that you don’t lose your job because it’s afraid of ending up destitute, or maybe it wants to prevent you from putting yourself out there with potential dates because it can’t bear the thought of rejection. Once you get to the bottom of its fears and what it’s trying to help you out with, you can send it appreciation for how it’s trying to keep you safe.
Be patient with yourself
Shifting your response and relationship to your inner critic takes time, practice, and patience. We can’t necessarily control our thoughts and feelings, but we can control our response to them so we’re not adding more pain on top of what’s already there.
Treat your inner critic like you would a fearful friend or child. Get curious about what its concerns are while also holding some perspective. If it starts to feel like the inner critic is the one driving the car of your life, don’t shove it in the trunk, but do ask it to take a seat in the back so you (not the critic) has the wheel.
Reach out for help
You don’t have to go it alone. One of my favorite things to do is to help my clients on the
journey of getting to better know, understand and radically shift how they respond to their inner critics. Reach out today to schedule a free consultation.