So tell me, how do you feel about those inner voices, the ones trapped inside your head? You’re not alone in experiencing them, we all do. Often it’s a complex series of voices, and we can’t actually tell who is projecting the opinions and beliefs, and then, there is this ringmaster of sorts, taking over the show and pulling them all in line. Often for many of us, it’s the inner critic, a judge who determines what is right, what is wrong, what you’re not capable of, and what you’re limited to. This controller takes over and runs the show. Do you know it, have you experienced what I am talking about? It may come through as a male, female, a wicked witch, a parent, a teacher, a tone and attitude that is capable of controlling you to some extent, even paralysing you, or simply waving a wand making you believe things that aren’t true.
Your Inner Critic has a persona
For me, I used see it as both a visual and a sound, it was like a judge’s gavel, each time I thought about what I wanted this smash came plummeting down, ‘you can’t do that!’, ‘that’s absurd!’, ‘are you for real?’ and it would knock me back into small thoughts. It was a really painful experience, one I wasn’t even aware I was doing for a long time, sentencing myself so to speak. Once I actually started to become aware of it, I was able to dialogue with it, understand its motives and ascertain if I wanted to take on its mission. This was a process that took a while to learn and understand. Every day I need to be cautious of letting it back in, or what I prefer to try instead – to harness it to my advantage.
Ways to be aware and manage it
Keeping a journal is a great way to actually monitor your thoughts. Thoughts come from words, or how we make sense of the stories we tell ourselves. Our thoughts form our actions. So the words are so important. In this instance, I’m talking about using a journal for free-forming thoughts. Just letting a stream of consciousness fall out of you. A few years back I really tried NOT to write about my hopes and dreams, but just write about the literal gunk in my head, what was happening at that moment. I would write and write and write about what ever was being tossed around up there. It was healing to process, to get it out, but when I would read back over it a lot of it was heavily biased towards negative beliefs. It was littered with sentences like, ‘you can’t do that’, ‘who are you to think you’re capable of getting that job’, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘why can’t I do X’, ‘a friend is better than me at Y’, ‘if everyone else can do it, why can’t I?’, ‘what is wrong with me’, ‘you’re shit’, if you loose weight, act happier, stop acting this way boys will find you attractive’. I intentionally wrote littered above, because those words were and are garbage. I was digesting a lot of rubbish in my mind. Which was showing up in my limited actions and ability to chase down what I truly wanted in life. I would stop myself from taking action in the direction I desired because I felt (and believed) I was worthless or useless.
Understanding your Inner Critic better
It was when I was at college studying that I was introduced to this concept of the inner critic, the voice of reason in our minds. I felt quite provoked by it’s existence – I was cosy with it, yet astonished to hear (as per all the above) all the grabble that came from it’s beliefs. In a curious way I was determined to understand it better, where it came from, how it formed, how it survived – what it needed to succeed. I realised it wasn’t very kind. It got its power from belittling, and I was tending to its needs like a dutiful gardener, fertilising, watering and pruning with self-punishment. Just being aware of this was insightful for me, but what came next was the transformative part. I was introduced to the notion of looking at its beneficial qualities, because my natural inclination was to punish the critic with another critical insult, thinking I was terrible for being terrible! And so the cycle continued…
So the suggestion was to start looking at the critic as neutral, neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ but actually just there. To really only listen to what it had to say under the guise of ‘being helpful’.
There are so many instances when this inner critic is needed for situations of benefit, when to see beyond people’s bullshit and use discernment, to evaluate your decisions, to make a choice on a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’, to evaluate your work, to be able to provide constructive feedback, to hold you back from a dangerous situation, that intuitive guide that tells you when to trust or not. It’s not all doom and gloom, and that is where I started to see a light to the end of this internal punishment tunnel. Let’s review a way to harness the inner critic to advantage.
Experiment a little…
So if the negative thoughts aren’t motivating, and the over the top praise doesn’t feel genuine or forms an egotistical base, how do we set a tone of moderation and realism? How do we achieve this? It’s getting to the place of neutral. Not judging the judge, questioning whether the words, thoughts and beliefs are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – but asking instead, ‘are these thoughts beneficial to me?’ or ‘is this a helpful approach?’
Firstly, I suggest you develop a way of getting to know your inner critic. Journal it’s voice, what it’s telling you, understand its motives. Give it a name if need be, write about it’s character, qualities, what it believes, draw it, or have a way to visualise it – perhaps it’s a character from a movie. Once you identify with it, you are able to take action.
As this character pops up in the future, stop fuelling its power and instead keep asking, is X being helpful right now? What would I rather be telling myself? Is it going to propel me forward, or limit me?
I’ll leave you with this, practice it a few times and see what kind of change you can achieve in harnessing that critical side of yourself in line with a more neutral point of reference.