Understanding your inner critic
She was sure, at one stage, the voice in her head wasn't as mean as it had become. She wasn't sure what had happened that caused it to shout so loudly, every time she tried to do something. The voice would tell her she wasn't good enough, she was kidding herself, she would fail. It would shout so loudly that even if she was able to muster the courage to move forward, the deafening sound would be so distracting she most often messed it up anyway. Sometimes she felt there really wasn't any point trying, and so, over time, her world shrank. She shrank. She learned to exist, instead of live.
Perhaps you can resonate with this story? So many of us hold ourselves back from living the lives we truly want to live, because of a voice in our head that tries to keep us playing small or that makes us feel like we couldn't possibly succeed at what we want to do. Whilst it's easy to assume that the voice is just part of us, but a part that can't be fought against, argued with or beaten and that it has its own mind, and it does what it wants, there is another way to look at it.
Even though your inner critic (the voice) seems to want to punish us, and make life a misery, there are tools and shifts that can empower us to feel in control of our life again. There is hope that you can be who you were meant to be, without the weight of the shouty, mean voice in your head.
Suppose this part of you was actually a scared part of you, built up over the years trying to protect you from rejection, from failure, from being outcast from the tribe, from the world ending. This part of you learned somewhere that certain situations and people were scary, and that if it shouted at you, and was mean to you and told you that you couldn't do things, you wouldn't... and then you'd stay safe.
All this time, you maybe thought the voice was out to get you, it was actually just trying to save you! Consider the possibility that all the time you have been hating the voice and trying to get rid of it, it has stuck around and just tried harder to love and protect you. What might happen if you begin to look at your inner critic in this way?
With this newfound understanding, respect and compassion for the voice, there are ways to reconnect with this part of yourself and work with it, rather than fight against it. Perhaps you might want to get to know the voice, talk to it and understand what it is so scared of. What might happen if you listened to your inner critic without trying to shut it up? Maybe you could work with the voice to come up with some better options than being shouted at and too scared to live the life you want.
How to work with your inner critic
So, how does one even go about working 'with' our inner critic? This is an element of parts therapy, internal family systems, and also part of the work I do as an integrative therapist. It takes a little imagination but is a great way to understand the different parts of ourselves and to help us integrate the different thoughts and feelings we might be having.
Here is an example of how to begin. You may find it easier working with an experienced therapist to guide you through this process until you get used to it.
1. Get quiet, close your eyes, and invite the voice to join you. You may imagine this inner critic as a version of you, a shape, an animal, another being or a colour. It may not take a form as such at all. It doesn't matter, it's a practice in your imagination and visualisation skills. There is no right or wrong.
2. It may be reluctant at first, what with the history of being hated and being told to shut up. But, with perseverance, the voice will begin to trust you. If it doesn't seem willing to talk to you in that moment, just let it know you're ready to listen, when it's ready, and keep checking back on it.
3. Listen to the inner critic, and get curious (without judgement). Ask what it's scared of, maybe even how it learned to protect you in this way. Try to understand what it needs to feel safe. Perhaps the fears were all from a long time ago, when perhaps things had been different, and the only way it knew how to survive was to keep you small and say nothing. Now, you can teach the voice that there are other ways, that actually, it is safe, that even if someone doesn't like something you say or do, you will be OK... you will both be OK.
4. Treat this relationship as you would any other and nurture it. Speak to your inner critic daily. Check-in with it and see how it feels and what it needs. If it feels safe, so will you. If it feels safe, it won't feel the need to protect you by bullying you into being quiet or staying small.
Over time, you can test out new scenarios, new ways of being and acting in situations, and show your inner critic the evidence that you are still safe, and it doesn't need to be so scared for you. You can gradually begin to expand your comfort zone, and together support each other when it feels scary. You may even find that the voice changes from criticising you to encouraging you.
If this feels a little strange or 'out there', that's probably because you've never done anything like this before. It's an odd concept to imagine having a conversation with another part of yourself, as if it was a separate person. It can also be a really interesting and insightful experience.
Why not try it out and see what happens? And, if you're curious but not sure where to start, have a look for a therapist you resonate with and work with them to understand and calm your inner critic. It is so worth the effort to allow the real, unafraid you to shine.