You lie awake at night replaying a conversation you had earlier in the day, wondering, ‘Why did I say that stupid thing?’
You make a mistake at work and conclude, ‘I’m a failure!’
You want to take action but you keep procrastinating because you believe it won’t be good enough.
You take up a new hobby and declare, ‘I’m the worst painter/writer/singer in the world.’ Then you quit.
‘I’ve let everyone down.’
‘I got 50% wrong.’ Never: ‘I got 50% right.’
‘I’ll never achieve anything in my life.’
These are all examples of the little voice in our head known as the Inner Critic (IC). It’s the part of us that is constantly attacking us, either dredging up mistakes from the past to remind us of our flaws or criticising our ability to achieve something in the future. This voice makes us feel bad, less than, never enough. Is it any wonder we want to silence it once and for all?
Unsuccessful Strategies for Silencing the Inner Critic
Distraction: Perhaps you turn on social media or socialise or read to try and drown out its incessant disapproval. It works only as long as the distraction continues.
Numbing: You sleep more than you need to or turn to food, alcohol or drugs then suffer the after-effects
Aggressive Elimination: You find yourself shouting at your Inner Critic to, ‘Shut up!’ It may be silent for a little while but it soon starts up again, this time even louder.
Many articles and books suggest getting rid of your IC is a battle; that your IC is an enemy to outwit. But is this combative dynamic helpful? Is there a better way?
Why most strategies don’t work
The Inner Critic is a part of you; a part that is hurt and afraid. Imagine a howling dog with a splinter in its paw. Shouting at the dog will only increase its distress and therefore its howling. You might be able to intimidate it into silence for a while, but the dog is still injured. Only by removing the splinter can the dog be healed. Then the howling will cease.
Why do we have an Inner Critic?
At some point in childhood, everyone comes to mistakenly believe that they aren’t lovable just as they are. This may be because of ill treatment but it may equally be because of something as innocent as a parent leaving the room and the baby mistakenly believing they’ve been abandoned. Feeling afraid, the child concludes that they aren’t loved and sets about getting that love back by adopting various coping strategies.
Ineffective Strategies to Gain Love
Some children become overly obedient to win approval from the authority figures around them, some become ultra-rebellious to regain a sense of power, while others withdraw, hiding their needs from their family and friends to prove that they’re not a burden. Whichever mechanism you adopted as a child, each one is based on the false belief that if we could only figure out what we did wrong, we can avoid doing it again and then we’ll be loved. This belief produces the voice we call the Inner Critic.
More Effective Strategies for Addressing Your Inner Critic
It’s important to listen to your Inner Critic; just don’t believe what it has to say. Instead, listen in order to decipher why it’s in pain, and respond to that. Only then you can release its power over you.
Your IC can sound very loud in your head. Imagine it’s a small dog with a splinter in its paw trying to get your attention. Imagine giving it a gentle pat on the head while you feed it some treats. Picture removing the splinter and reassuring the dog that you love it.
Write down everything your IC says. Read it over quietly and identify the fears underlying its words, e.g. If it says, ‘You’re not working hard enough’, the fear underlying it might be, ‘I am not enough’ or ‘I’ll be rejected if I’m not perfect’ or ‘My worth depends on getting things right’. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a letter to her IC thanking it for trying to protect her but that she was going to take it from here. Consider writing a letter of your own.
Like all emotions, we experience fear in our body. Take three belly breaths then watch the fear coming from your IC. Imagine you’re a naturalist observing a phenomenon. You’re not trying to change it or get rid of it. You’re just trying to get to know it. What does the fear feel like? Is it tight in your chest or throat? Dense? Jabbing? Pulsing? Pressing down on you? What does it look like? A jagged shape? A particular colour? An object such as a knife? It is possible a memory may come up of a time when you were criticised as a child. Keep breathing as you observe the fear. Breath into the space where you feel the fear the most. See what happens.
This process can also be combined with EFT tapping to help shift the fearful emotions and change critical thought patterns.
If you allow it, your IC can become your greatest teacher, pointing you towards a part of yourself in need of support and healing.
And if you feel too overwhelmed to go it alone, consider making an appointment with a fully qualified EFT practitioner or counsellor to guide you through the process.
– Marianne Vreugdenhil BA, BSW.