Managing Your Inner Critic
Self-criticism is that little voice inside your head that tells you that you aren’t ok. We all have this voice; it’s just a little louder for some people than it is for others. It turns up without being invited and has it’s say, and you know you are saying these awful things to yourself. Yet, at the same time it all happens so quickly, it can be really difficult to identify exactly what is going on when we self-criticise. Despite everything you do it’s a persistent little ‘friend’ that hangs around and reminds us of all our shortcomings. Somehow this voice of criticism has a mind of its own and it doesn’t stop. In fact, our natural response is to try and suppress self-criticism, and sometimes this has the effect of giving relief for a time, but only makes that nagging voice scream louder in the long run.
There are ways you can manage your inner critic and I am going to talk about my preferred strategies in this article. If you can manage your critical voice you can give yourself some relief from the negative emotions this voice creates and at the same time improve your self-knowledge, self-confidence and self-esteem.
The classic approach to managing your critical inner voice is to use CBT strategies. This involves using a thought diary and describing a situation in which you had self-critical thoughts, what those self-critical thoughts were, the consequences of those self-critical thoughts (how the thoughts held you back) and then a rational response for how you could approach the situation in the future. CBT has had excellent results for people following this structured strategy to manage inner critic. However, research has also shown that people who follow CBT often struggle to maintain these results long term. The thinking to explain this is that CBT does not take you into a deeper understanding of where the inner critical voice is coming from in the first place. I believe it is this deeper reflection that is necessary to manage self-criticism and bring about not just relief from the inner nagging voice but self-assuredness, confidence from the inner knowing that comes from deep reflection.
My approach to understanding your inner critic involves understanding where the inner critical voice is coming from, using a diary method to link to your unconscious and reflecting with compassionate self-awareness. The method takes the logical functional approach of CBT to a deeper level and allows you to access your own creative inner knowing to self-heal.
If you find your inner critical voice is screaming loudly, rather than viewing this as a signal that you aren’t ok, see this as a prompter that you need to take some time to tune into yourself. That your inner critical voice is screaming for you to listen, so do just that.
How to tune into your inner critical voice
Listening to you inner critic can be a really difficult thing to do because the voice isn’t always clear. The best way to tune into your inner critic is to use a daily diary, just like in CBT. However, I want you to use this diary in a very different way. I want you to use the process that Julia Cameron identifies in her book The Artists Way. Julia developed the process of morning pages to enhance creativity. I want you to use your morning pages with creativity in mind but also to help you to access what is going on deep inside you. Julia describes morning pages as waking up early in the morning – say 5 to 6 am. This enables you to access your unconscious mind before your ego has had a chance to assert itself. It is the best time to access you inner thoughts before the pressures of the day have had a chance to distract you. Plan to fill at least 3 A4 pages full of writing. You can use a pad, or I prefer a dedicated journal. If you start and have no idea what to write just write ‘I don’t know what to write”. This process must be done in handwriting not typing to fully access your inner world. Julia describes doing this for days and days filling pages and pages before her thoughts started to flow. Just allow yourself to write, don’t worry about headings or structure what we are trying to do is reach your innermost thoughts.
Eventually, as you read back over your notes, you will start to identify themes in your writing. Use a highlighter to highlight common themes. These themes represent you unconscious messages, ideas beliefs and values. The writing has two effects it starts to bring about clarity, it increases your inner knowing, and it has this wonderful cathartic effect of emptying your mind and bringing some peace.
Bring your thoughts into awareness
When you notice the themes in your writing, you might see some common phrases or feelings you have written about. Think about when you first heard the words or felt the feelings you are writing about. Often inner critical voices come from our earliest childhood experiences. Was it mum or dad who in wanting the best for us criticised us in ways that were harsh and left a voice within our head that now speaks to us in overly critical ways. What were the feelings we were left with? What are the familiar feelings we feel now that are old feelings we have felt for a long time?
When you identify the critical voice, try to understand the underlying message that is accompanying the harsh words. Remember when Mum and dad criticised us, or overly protected us so that we felt we couldn’t be independent or try new things because we would get it wrong, what was the underlying message mum or dad were trying to convey? When you understand that inner critical voice and where it is coming from and its underlying motivation you can start to rephrase the voice and soften it so that its impact is no longer so emotionally exhausting.
When you identify the words your inner critic uses to criticise you, ask yourself. If I heard a friend speaking to themselves the way I speak to myself what would I say? I would probably tell that friend that they are being overly harsh and offer to help and support them. I want to you to treat yourself in exactly the same way you would treat a friend. This is where self-soothing comes in. Be compassionate with yourself. You might have made a mistake; it might have been a really big mistake with irreversible consequences. We aren’t perfect, and we learn from our mistakes, and we go on to make positive changes in the world. You need to give yourself recognition for that as well
If you find yourself struggling it can be helpful to find a trusted friend to talk through your thoughts, or even a counsellor to help you move forward. Sometimes all it takes is someone with a different perspective to find the clarity we need to move forward.
The power of self-reflection
If you can take the time to reflect it gives you an enhanced self-awareness and this builds your confidence. When you know yourself you know where your thoughts and feelings come from. You might get caught in the emotion of the moment but with reflection, you can achieve greater clarity, and this enables you to manage your emotion more effectively. You won’t silence your inner critic but with understanding it’s voice becomes more bearable.
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