10 Ways to handle your inner-critic
As I write this, it’s January, the start of a new year. For some of us, it might be a time for making resolutions to start a new good habit, or stop doing something, or do something better. And yes, almost inevitably, we fall short of our own hopes and expectations.
So what do we do when that familiar harsh voice pops up unbidden in our mind: “Idiot! How could you ever have thought that you could do this?”
It’s your inner-critic, at it again. Undermining you, making you feel hopeless, dispirited and ready to give up. Stopping you in your tracks, making you want to reach for the chocolates in despair.
So what can you do about it? How can you feel okay about yourself, ready to enjoy living a healthy, peaceful, happy, creative and productive life?
- Noticing the inner-critic, and giving it a label, can be really empowering. Perhaps you simply accepted its judgements as ‘the truth’, or didn't even realise it was speaking and influencing you. The more you can step back and let yourself think ‘ah, there goes my inner-critic again!’, the further you are getting along the journey towards gradually dismantling its power over you.
- It may seem hard to believe, but your inner-critic only got going in the first place as a protective mechanism! Start to look for what goes on in the moments before your inner-critic starts sniping at you. Exactly what feelings or thoughts triggered your critic? You may discover that you were feeling shame, powerlessness, longing, or vulnerability of some kind, and your inner-critic moved in to distract you and save you from feeling those difficult feelings.
- Whenever you realise you’re getting caught up in a battle with your inner-critic (“You’re such an idiot!” - “No, I’m not!”) see if you can step back. Internal battles just make you feel worse. When you’re caught up in an internal argument, you’re not paying attention to what you really want and need — which is to be compassionately in touch with your feelings, hopes, and needs, and to find ways of sharing these with someone who can accept and cherish these most vulnerable parts of you, too.
- Make a distinction between ‘me’ and the inner-critic. Gradually you can re-educate yourself to understand that the inner-critic is only one aspect of you, not your core self.
- Picture yourself taking all the inner-critic’s opinions and putting them in an imaginary basket. Then, in your mind, take the basket outside the room and leave it there, telling yourself that you can bring it back in later on if you choose.
- Where in your body do you sense the inner-critic to be located? What shape does it take? Any colour or other attribute? Focus in on that part with an attitude of openness and curiosity. What does it really want and need? What does it really want to tell you, that’s underneath the criticism? Once you start responding to it with a kindlier attitude, you may find things really starting to shift.
- Notice your attitude towards others. Are you critical of other people, particularly those you live or work with? Maybe it’s time to soften and allow others to be imperfect and okay - this can be an effective first step towards quieting your own self-judgement.
- Every time you notice the inner-critic at work, tell it gently but firmly that you’re not open to hearing this just now, but that you will set aside five minutes at a particular point in the day to listen to its comments. (Tip: just make sure the daily five minutes isn't at night, when we tend to be more vulnerable to negative suggestions). At the allotted time, consider the criticisms and whether you would want a loved one to believe these things about herself. Maybe it’s time to stop believing them yourself?
- Picture the inner-critic as a cartoon figure, a monster or a person. Now start to alter your image. Make them gradually more and more ridiculous-looking, small and/or powerless, with a silly voice.
- Who says we have to be perfect, anyhow? Of course we can’t be perfect! Remember that you are bound to get things wrong and mess up from time to time - because you’re human, and that’s what real humans do!
And if the inner-critic keeps on being a problem for you, consider finding a counsellor or psychotherapist to support you in your journey. A secure relationship with a trusted and skilled therapist may be what is most needed in order to provide a context for transformation, healing and change. Good luck!