What is the Inner Critic?
The Inner Critic is a part of us that can sound like a voice in the head – and it can say pretty mean things to us.
It can sound like an outside voice that says things like:
- You’re stupid
- Why did you do THAT?
- Who’s going to listen to you?
- You don’t have what it takes to pull this off
- Your decision was wrong
It can also sound like it’s coming from inside ourselves, in our voice, like this:
- I’m lazy
- I’m bad
- I’m stupid and I can’t do anything right
- I’m defective and everyone can see it
- I do everything wrong
Truth is – if we happened to look around in that moment, we wouldn’t see another soul anywhere. It’s ‘just’ a voice in our head…. Yet it feels so real and can make us feel cringy, low, unmotivated, ashamed, and small.
So where do these condemning voices come from?
Most of us grow up with parents who mean well and want to help us grow up to be functional, healthy and self-sufficient adults.
The way they sometimes do that, is to criticize us when there’s a less desirable result. Our parents were ‘just’ normal people, too, before they stepped into that new role. Most often they were not equipped to handle another little person’s needs on top of their own. So instead of supporting us and showing us how to do things better, they criticized and judged, sometimes from sheer frustration, tiredness or not knowing another way.
Or… a teacher, in a frustrated moment, said something mean and critical.
In one single emotionally charged moment, where we felt an intense emotion like shame, guilt, humiliation or embarrassment, their voice became a belief in our subconscious mind.
And if their behaviour was repeated over and over, our belief in that statement (you’re stupid, you’re bad, you do it wrong) became firmer and firmer – until it just felt like the full truth about ourselves.
No-one is stupid or wrong all the time… but the part of us that got the message in that moment (or many times), only knows about ‘now’…. to that part, it is the ‘one and only, eternal truth’.
What can we do about the Inner Critic?
Here are some things that don’t work.
- It doesn’t work to banish your inner critic
- Nor does it work to conquer your inner critic
- Send it into oblivion? Nope.
- Silencing your inner critic usually doesn’t work
- It doesn’t work to nail it, crush it, kill it, delete it or deny it
All the above makes it come back with a vengeance, with more resolve to “correct” you.
Because innately, all parts of us have a positive intention. Yes, even the part of us called the Inner Critic.
Its positive intention is to help us do things better, to protect us from humiliation, shame, embarrassment, rejection, or being unloved.
Unfortunately, it goes about it in a way that does not actually help us. Who has ever done better when they felt criticized or called out? Improvement and growth depend on kindness, safety and loving attention.
Therefore, here are some things that could potentially work to gain more freedom from this mean inner voice:
- Understand the inner critic, and its intention
- Embrace the inner critic
- Calm the inner critic
- Befriend your inner critic
Befriending your Inner Critic
This is my personal favourite. But we don’t get there in one step.
Here’s the process I love most to work with this part of ourselves.
First, we aim to understand why the inner critic exists, what its intention is, and how it’s trying to help us.
Then, we find ways to make friends with it. A friend is more likely to want to help us out, right? And when someone feels welcome in our lives, all sorts of things like safety and trust become possible.
Befriending means many things:
- accepting that it’s there, without trying to make it go away (what good has controlling it back ever done?)
- showing it some love instead of rejecting it
- embracing it with warts and all
- having disagreements of opinion yet still being okay with their presence
- calming and soothing it
- communicating with it
- building a closer relationship and understand more of it’s behaviour and intention
- using it as a means for growth
To summarise, this is the way I prefer to view and work with the Inner Critic:
It currently feels like it judges us and makes us bad.
It truly doesn’t help to judge it back or boot it out. It has a positive intention, and if we find out what it is, we can have its needs met…. We can teach it another type of behaviour that’s more supportive, and we both win, me and my Inner Critic!
It’s an act of self-care to build a relationship with this part of us, and in doing so, I, and everyone around me, benefit.