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Good News about Your Inner Critic

emotional wellbeing mindfulness Apr 12, 2022
White bird chirping like inner critic

The inner critic, that harsh voice born from our ego, contributes elaborative chatter in our minds propelled by hyper awareness. It’s creative and descriptive. And that's the good news it offers: that level of awareness and creativity can shapeshift into a different narrative—one free from judgment. 

Our imaginations can run wild with elaborate self-criticisms seeped in shoulds and ifs. Like a house of horrors, the inner critic’s visuals and narratives are illustrative and distorted.

I wonder if I had told her that I was sorry in a different way and cleaned her house gutters in a windstorm, if she would still be my friend.

So many people said I nailed the presentation today. I think I did, but maybe I should’ve worn the blue shirt with the mustard yellow pencil skirt. I probably would have commanded the room better. My dress was just too frumpy. I am frumpy.

I should’ve known to turn left instead of right around the block on my five-mile walk so I didn’t have to encounter that man and his off-leash dog. And I definitely should have told him it was dangerous and illegal. Maybe next time, I’ll say it. I just wish I had the same cool confidence as Beyoncé. I don’t think I can ever feel calm.

So clever. So sneaky. Such a joy-kill!

Inner critic’s instincts that go too far

That inner critic's voice often speaks to us with relentless and cruel expectations. We all have this judgmental voice that seems capable of sabotaging the joy, meaning, and sense of accomplishment in just about everything we do. 

This voice is a function of our brains designed to keep us safe, which is great when you’re trying to hone your knife-throwing skills or learning to lift heavy weights over your head. It’s not quite so helpful when you’re taking risks in relationships and businesses or exploring how to express yourself in new ways. The inner critic amplifies the negative narratives in our minds—influencing our decision-making and overall mental health. 

Admirable attributes of the inner critic

When we can notice that the inner critic is present in our thoughts, we have a chance to get curious. This is the first step towards becoming the observer of our life experiences and releasing the attachment to the emotional waves of uncertainty and self-doubt.  

It’s in those moments we most want to seek control of the unknown that the inner critic fires up for battle. However, we’re only one conscious breath away from accessing our higher observer and making sovereign decisions.

The same hyper-vigilance of the inner critic can be used to assess the facts and become an objective observer. We can take a look at how this voice carries qualities we might enlist in healthier and more productive narratives. Here are few admirable characteristics of the inner critic:

  • super aware
  • creative
  • concerned for safety
  • motivational for action or inaction
  • capable of assessing lots of information
  • favors problem solving

Where it goes astray is that it is fueled by a negative (and false) belief formed at a young age and has swelled into a thundering voice of negativity and anxiety. 

You’re more than a mind

The inner critic often triggers the fight, flight, or freeze reaction in our nervous system. Our body takes over to keep reinforcing the inner critic’s voice, which seems to be the voice of reason to keep us safe. But … really it’s often making danger out of daisies. And the body doesn’t know the difference. It still has to process the adrenaline and cortisol pumping through its veins.

The objective observer will recognize that the inner critic is one of many aspects of our existence—that we are more than our minds. If we pause the harsh narrative for the slightest moment and connect with the body, we can discharge the activated energy and hormones associated with the perceived danger. Then we can get our brains back to a neutral space where we can make a conscious decision based on facts not story.

This creates a shift in perspective from a higher level of consciousness. We become both the teacher and the student of our own experiences—and release the judgmental tone. 

Easier said than done—quieting the inner critic

Because the inner critic’s voice is rooted in beliefs planted in childhood, it can be tenacious. It’s well grooved and highly adaptive—albeit maladaptive. But it is possible to quiet the inner critic with strategies, approaches, and tools. We already started to take a look at the positive attributes of the inner critic. Simply by acknowledging that this aspect of self is multifaceted, we bring curiosity to the table.  

Curiosity is key in working with the inner critic.

Here are some tools and exercises to start working with and quieting the inner critic: 

  • Write a letter to your inner critic. Reflect to her on how the negative head chatter impacts you—physically, emotionally, mentally. You might thank her for the ways she’s kept you safe in the past. Let your inner critic know what any boundaries you’re choosing to set moving forward. Be sure to sign your letter.
  • Create a dialogue between your neutral observer and inner critic in your journal. Allow each party to ask and answer questions. Notice where pauses or tension rise. 
  • Take three conscious breaths and spend about three minutes in observance of your thoughts. Allow whatever comes to mind to be noticed and then released without judgment. In and out. You might imagine each thought as a cloud that floats on by. If three minutes felt easy, try it for five. 
  • Ask a trusted companion that you know will always honor your highest self to engage in a mirror exercise. It’s important that you feel neutral or safe with this person. Tell them about a scenario where your inner critic is often loud and give an example of the narrative that accompanies that situation. Ask your companion to reflect back to you by sharing a statement that starts with “I hear you say …” Practice observing how it sounds differently or similarly to how you hear the narrative in your head. Pay attention to how it feels in your body to hear your inner critic narrative mirrored. 
  • Try EFT Tapping to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s a powerful somatic tool that enlists the wisdom of your body and also honors the emotions moving through you associated with a particular belief or thought. It’s gentle. It’s fast. It often creates a permanent shift in perspective.

It never ceases to amaze me at how cruel and cutting the inner critic voice can be. We would never talk to our friends and loved ones in that way. It’s time to get present, be creative, and choose a more loving narrative. Keep noticing what you notice and choose to start over at any point.

If you or someone you care about experiences constant and excessive worry, anxiousness, or fear without a clearly identifiable reason and suspect symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), please talk to your health care provider or licensed mental health provider

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