The Inner Critic.
That familiar voice that arrives at exactly the wrong time, spitting judgment, criticism, and guilt your way. It nestles into the tenderest parts of you, turning your confidence to shame, and your delight to fear.
It seems to know all your secrets, and worst of all, it sounds just like you.
When we try to run or hide or distract ourselves from the Inner Critic, it only seems to get stronger. The more we fight against it, the louder it gets, saturating everything around it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to fall victim to your Inner Critic. Instead, there are steps you can take to flip the script and turn your Inner Critic into a compass toward your authentic self. Rather than leading you into the dark, it can signal you toward mindfulness, compassion, and authenticity.
Step 1: Notice Who Is Speaking:
The first and most important step toward taming your Inner Critic is to identify who is speaking. Often, we become so accustomed to the Inner Critic’s presence in our mind that we may not even realize when it takes over.
If you’re working on something and you begin to question yourself, if you feel your energy decreasing, if you’re getting stuck, bored or tired, recognize that the Inner Critic has taken the mic.
Listen earnestly, but do not take its words to heart. Notice what it is saying, and acknowledge its presence. By bringing it into the light, it loses the power to control you from the shadows.
Step 2: Name your Ensemble
As you practice noticing when your Inner Critic has the mic, you may also begin to notice different “flavors” or “voices” that show up. For some, the Inner Critic is a Judge. For others, it’s a Destroyer, a Conformist, an Underminer, a Perfectionist or a Taskmaster.
Give each one a name and a character.
For example, I named my own judgmental critic “Judge Judy.” Imagine with me for a second what it feels like when the judgmental Inner Critic arrives. She begins chiding you, questioning your decisions, and she makes you feel small. Now, imagine that when you notice her arrival, instead of taking her words to heart, you begin to picture Judge Judy instead! I can’t help but laugh.
You can give your Inner Critic(s) fictional names, or they can be based on characters from a book, film, or your own life experience. The sky's the limit when it comes to naming and shaping your characters. Other names I’ve heard for Inner Critics include Marge Simpson, Doubtful Debbie, and Regina George.
At this point you may be thinking, “This sounds silly. What’s the point?”
By creating distance between you and your Inner Critic in a light-hearted way, it not only separates your voice from that of the Inner Critic, but puts its judgments into perspective, allowing you more time to choose how you’ll respond.
Step 3: Check the Facts
The Inner Critic is known for hurling some pretty nasty insults. It seems the Inner Critic will say almost anything to keep you where you are. Sometimes, it can feel really difficult to know what is true and what isn’t, so it’s important to check the facts. Get into the habit of questioning your thoughts with curiosity. This will not only help you identify who is speaking, but will give you the space to decide what is actually true, and what is not.
When you hear your inner critic talking, ask questions like these:
Is what this voice saying actually true?
Do I have any real evidence?
If so, is this the whole truth, or just one small part of the truth?
If I check with my heart (or my breath, or my gut, or my body) what’s the real truth?
Does listening to this voice serve my goals or make me happy?
If I choose to believe this voice, what are the consequences?
Does this voice help me move forward or keep me stuck?
If this voice were absent, how would I act? What would I do?
By remaining curious about the thoughts you’re having, you create space within yourself to choose your own response. Checking the facts will shift the power away from the Inner Critic, and put it back in the hands of your authentic self.
Step 4: Thank Your Inner Critic
Though misguided, the Inner Critic may very well be attempting to protect you from potential feelings of shame, vulnerability, or feeling out of control. So take a moment and really listen when it speaks. What do you hear?
Most often, the Inner Critic comes from a place of fear. Acknowledge your Inner Critic’s desire to keep you safe, and kindly reassure it that you have things under control. It may sound something like this:
“Doubtful Debbie, it sounds like you’re afraid of being embarrassed at this job interview. Maybe you’re scared they’ll think I’m not good enough. I understand. I’m a little nervous too. But even if it doesn’t go well, I know that I can handle whatever comes my way. Thank you for trying to protect me, but I have this under control.”
Though it may feel a bit silly at first, you might be surprised how effective it actually is at quieting the fears of the Inner Critic. By tenderly turning toward your Inner Critic, you’re acknowledging your own fears without letting them control you.
Step 5: Flip the Script
Though it takes time, it is possible to flip the script and use your Inner Critic as a way to help you move forward. Over time, the Inner Critic will become a signal to you that part of you is feeling afraid, vulnerable, or ashamed. Use this as an opportunity to listen, to learn, and to search your mind and body for the authentic truth. Rather than tearing you down, the Inner Critic becomes the compass that moves you toward curiosity, compassion, and acceptance within yourself, and becomes a valuable tool for getting unstuck.