Are you familiar with that that voice that is just below the surface, undermining your accomplishments, diminishing your strengths, and playing off your deepest insecurities and fears? This voice may follow you to work, accompany you to social gatherings, be by your side when attempting to accomplish your daily responsibilities, and whispering in your ear when you spend time with loved ones. What IS this disapproving voice that sounds so much like our own, judging and demeaning us at every turn?
This voice is commonly known in psychology as the “inner critic.” Freud called it the “superego,” scientists call it “survivor brain,” and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy refers to it as “automatic negative thoughts.” Whatever you call it, much of this internal dialogue arises from messages that were given to us starting in childhood by family, teachers, friends, and society. Over time, due to our own insecurities, challenges, and negative life experiences, this voice gets louder, stronger, and more persuasive. It becomes harder and harder to identify what is reality, and what is the inner critic attempting to sabotage our emotional wellbeing.
This sounds grim, but there is good news. You don’t have to believe everything you think. Let me say that again-YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK. Humans have an average of 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day, 80% of which are negative. This negativity over time can lead to sadness, helplessness, agitation, fear, worry, and hopelessness. They say, “Change your thoughts, change your life.” But how do we do that, especially when this inner critic has become so strong and powerful over time?
The simple answer? It’s a process. It will take mindfulness, vigilance, and consistency to change the pervasive negative thought patterns of the inner critic. However, the inner peace, freedom, confidence, and happiness that result from doing so are beyond measure. Here are some tools to get you started on gaining freedom from your inner critic:
1. Peacefully Observe
Oftentimes when we encounter something negative, or tendency is to try to suppress, avoid, fix, manage or control it. However, when it comes to negative thoughts, doing so often results in temporary relief, and the negative thoughts often resurface with a vengeance soon after. It can be helpful to think of your inner critic as a child throwing a temper tantrum. Let your inner critic know that you hear it, but do not give it more power than it deserves by engaging with it. Find a mantra that feels right to you, conveying the message, “Ok inner critic, I hear what you are saying, but I do not wish to listen or believe that.” Remind yourself that your thoughts are just words in your head, they are not facts. It is up to you to decide how much power you wish to give these words.
The inner critic often exaggerates the negative in an attempted to keep you trapped in fear and hopelessness. Take some time to investigate what the inner critic is saying. For example, “You are a horrible parent.” Ask yourself, “Are my children alive? Are they fed/clothed/bathed? Am I doing the best I can?” Chances are, your inner critic is lying to you, taking one negative event combined with your own insecurities and stating the worst. Try asking yourself some general investigative questions, such as “Is this thought helpful? Is this thought true? What might my family and friends say about this thought? Am I blaming myself unnecessarily? What does the evidence in my life say about this thought?” This will help to expose the inner critic for what it really is-an irrational, illogical, and deceptive bully.
Regular meditation practice allows you to become painfully aware of the endless chatter of the mind. As stated earlier, 80% of our thoughts are negative. Regular meditation practice will help you to gain experience in becoming mindful of your thoughts, detaching emotionally from these thoughts, and gaining the ability to pick and choose which thoughts you wish to engage with. Meditation is counterintuitive, so start small and keep your expectations low. The goal of meditation is not to be absent of thoughts. It is meant to help you gain clarity in how the mind works, and to avoid getting swept up and emotionally invested with your thoughts.
4. Practice Self-Care
Sometimes it can be beneficial to “act as if” we love ourselves, and our thoughts will catch up with our actions over time. The inner critic is often developed through receiving messages that you are not good enough and don’t matter. By engaging in regular self-care activities, you are sending another more truthful message to your inner critic-that you are worthy of love and respect. Self-care comes in a variety of forms, such as setting limits with others, having realistic expectations, repeating positive affirmations, journaling, exercise, eating healthy, drinking water, getting a massage, reaching out for help, dancing, singing, and resting. Find out what gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling and run with it. Send the message to your inner critic that you are not believing it’s lies anymore by treating yourself with kindness and compassion.
Battling your inner critic is not an easy task, but it is worth the fight. Remember, despite your past, challenges, and struggles, you deserve happiness. Don’t let anyone or anything tell you otherwise. If you feel you can use assistance in challenging these thoughts and finding your inner peace, don’t hesitate to contact us.