We all have one. That inner voice that tends to judge, use put downs, and continually tell us that we are not good enough. That voice that tends to control us and severely impact our sense of self-esteem. It tells us that we have no right to “play big” or risk. That we shouldn’t even try because we’ll never make it. It latches onto our perceived flaws, weaknesses, limitations and keeps us stuck in a place of mental and emotional paralysis. It tells us that others are more favourable, that they are better- more talented, better looking, smarter etc. That they would never “mess up” the way we have. That they have it all together. It conjures up illusions of the “perfect other” and keeps us dormant.
Your inner critic typically sounds something like this:
- “That was stupid!”
- “You could have done that better.”
- “You should have known better.”
- “You’re such a disappointment.”
- “I am so weak.”
- “I’ll never be anything.”
- “I knew I couldn’t do it.”
- “You may as well give up.”
- “You’re a failure.”
- “Look how capable _______________ is.”
Shaming, degrading, discouraging, limiting, and usually, completely automatic. The inner critic can take some time to identify, as we are typically not even aware of the voice inside our minds and the profound impact it is having on our emotions and actions. The inner critic is also habitual, learned, and therefore changeable.
It’s in your power to change the critical voice which holds you, but it requires a dedicated willingness, persistence, patience and an abundance of self-compassion.
Imagine for a moment, a time when your critical voice took over. Bring yourself to that moment. Immerse yourself in the feelings of that moment, as difficult and as painful as it might be, remembering that you’re safe now, and grounded in this moment. If you can, however, try and reflect on the following questions:
- If your self-critical thoughts took on the appearance of a person, what would this person look like?
- What is this person’s facial expression?
- Is this person big or small in comparison to you?
- What is this person’s tone of voice like?
- Is this person directing emotions your way? If so, what are they?
- Does he or she remind you of anyone?
(Welford, 2013, p. 40-41).
What have you discovered through reflecting on the questions above? Not surprisingly, the critic can often take on the appearance, stance, and tone of the person who was most critical toward you. We internalize their voice, until self-inflicted pain is all we know and the belief that criticism is all we are deserving of overwhelms us, making it all that more difficult to break the pattern. Plus, as odd as it may seem, there is comfort and security in the criticism for it is familiar, and solace usually comes from what we know, and what is predictable.
Welcome fear and hesitation around the prospect of ending your relationship with your critic. It’s natural. Be patient with yourself.
- What’s your greatest fear around giving up your self-criticism?
- What do you think might happen if you let it go?
- When reflecting on the emotions brought up by your self-critic do you think it has your best interests at heart?
- Does it take joy in seeing you be happy and doing well?
- If your self-critic does have your best interests at heart, is it going about it the right way?
(Welford, 2013, p. 42)
The thing about self-criticism is, it often makes us believe that we need it in order to grow, change and evolve. That without it we are destined to a life of mediocrity. That it is what motivates us to do better and be better. We begin to believe that achievement and criticism go hand in hand, because it is through being hard on ourselves that we are able to strive and succeed. And, this is all well and good…for a while at least. It’s all well and good until it begins to hinder our willingness to risk because we become fearful of the consequences we will surely endure if we fail.
Risk is the birth place of personal evolution.
The mere prospect of failure becomes crippling because we begin to feel that we would not be able handle the messages our internal critic would deliver to us should we not attain or achieve the outcome we desire. And so, we become stagnant, and mediocre.
Personal growth must come from a place of self-love.
Softness and gentleness are imperative mechanisms for change, because they allow us to give ourselves permission to falter and fail without condemning us to a feeling of complete and utter shame if the outcome is not that which we hoped for.
So, I encourage you to get cozy with your inner critic, as uncomfortable as it may be- for it is only through our awareness of its presence that we are able to eradicate it, and welcome the freedom found it unwavering self-love, for that is where your happiness, joy, and fulfillment rest.