What to Do with Your Inner Critic
I have noticed more and more people speak about having an inner critic. They say they have one, but what I have noticed is two things: The awareness of their inner critic stops there. The inner critic is considered part of who they are. The possibility of changing their relationship with their inner critic is not considered or, more commonly, ignored. They want to 'do something' about their inner critic, but they don't know how to even start this process. My journey with my inner critic has been one of 'I don't know what to do with you' to having a relationship with a part of myself that has connected me to my true self. My inner critic is now my friend and she shows me what is most important to me. We share conversations and work together to create a life we love. UPON AWARENESS I recall the first time I became 'aware' of my inner critic. I was 36 years old. I went to see a therapist to help me with my relationship with my eldest son. As I sat in his office, relaying my story (chronic illness, divorce, single motherhood), he said, "Given what you have gone through, you are doing remarkably well. All you need is a little help with how you relate to your thoughts." "What do you mean?" I asked. He proceeded to explain to me that my thoughts could be observed. That I could watch them and notice they are not always true or helpful. He mentioned what I make things mean are not always accurate. He said that with some mindfulness practice, I would notice a big difference in my life. "Mindfulness?" I had heard of the word mindfulness, but the mindfulness practice he spoke of had an entirely different meaning. His definition of mindfulness is "The paying attention in the present moment to what is going on inside your body and outside your body without judgment." He recommended the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. THE FRUSTRATION OF AWARENESS For the first time in my life, I was grasping that my thoughts could be watched and observed from an objective point of view. I could look in as an unbiased observer not buying into every thought that crossed my mind. I could notice when my thoughts were not always accurate, not true, making assumptions, creating mind stories, and when they took me out of my present moment. It is one thing to notice our thoughts, including our inner critic. It is another to know what to do after we have this awareness. Once I recognized I could notice my thoughts, I wanted to know what to do with this new awareness. The ignorance was almost better than the awareness. I felt empowered by awareness of my thought, yet I felt disempowered by not even knowing what I could do with it. I also felt angry. Why had no one told me that my thoughts are not always true or helpful? Or that I could pay attention to thoughts rather than always be them? I could have used this as early as elementary school! I remember walking with my friend and saying, "When I figure out how to use thought awareness as a tool for having a better life, I will teach it." RECOGNIZING THE INNER CRITIC Among noticing my thoughts, I recognized within them was an inner critic. The part of my thoughts that are not always true or actuate. She tends to create doubt, fear, and anxiety in my body. She second-guesses my ability, my beauty, my worth, and my credibility. She tells me to avoid risks and challenges. If it's not familiar and predictable, it's bad. Not everyone's inner critic is the same, but for the most part, when someone is unaware of and identifies with their inner critic, it holds them back from their greatest potential. CREATING A RELATIONSHIP WITH MY INNER CRITIC I began a dialogue with my inner critic through journaling. I didn't like her. My awareness of her filled me with resentment for all the turmoil she had caused in my life. However, I began to realize disliking her was disliking a part of myself. I did not want to dislike myself. Instead, I decided to have a dialogue with her. When she showed up, I asked her, "Is what you say true? What do you make the situation mean? What is most important to me right now? How can you get on board with what I want?" With practice, I gained the self-discipline to stop her midrun. Reaccess. And in such, she and I became friends. Triggers became less trigging. I noticed I could also redirect my thoughts, shift them from scattered, anxious thinking to 'what's most important right now; where I am at right now?' With practice, there was less and less intensity in my inner critic's urgency. I became my mind rather than being unconsciously at the whim of an undisciplined mind. I recognized the undisciplined mind scattered my energy, leaving me mentally, emotionally, and physically depleted. Thoughts were no longer unconscious, autopilot habits. Instead, my thoughts created new habits of thinking with intention and purpose rooted in what matters most. WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR INNER CRITIC Notice. Notice when the inner critic shows up. At first, noticing will not happen right away. Noticing may not happen until after the inner critic has made her say. With practice, we start noticing during the inner critic's dialogue. Call it out. Once you notice your inner critic, call it out. This can be right when it starts to take form in your mind, it could be in the middle of your inner critic's habit of being part of your automatic thinking, or it could happen after your inner critic has already made her speech of the day. Regardless of when you notice, call it out. Calling it out begins the rewiring of your brain, a new pattern of thinking, which paves the way to a new relationship with your inner critic. WARNING: Calling out your inner critic will be hard at first. It will especially be hard when you catch your inner critic at the onset or in the middle of inner dialogue. There will be a very deep desire to identify with her and not stop your inner critic from having her say. Have a conversation. Because the habit of the inner critic is inner thought, allow yourself to remain in inner thought by having a conversation with your inner critic. The difference in this form of inner thought is that you are now aware of your thoughts rather than letting them take shape without you knowing it. In this conversation with the inner critic, ask her, "Is this true? Is it kind? What are you making things mean that may not be accurate?" In this conversation, your inner critic and yourself will notice patterns that are not helpful. Be gentle, kind, and compassionate. Rather than dislike your inner critic, be an example of how your inner critic is to treat you. Show her what it is to be nonjudgmental by being nonjudgmental. Show her gentleness by being gentle. Show her kindness by being kind. Show her compassion by being compassionate. Your inner critic, after all, was created unintentionally. Now, with intention, you are teaching her how to be nonjudgmental, gentle, kind, and compassionate. With practice, you will notice your inner critic is less reactive. And when she is reactive, with practice, your inner critic will notice this and evaluate rather than assume. Journal. By journaling with your inner critic, you slow down the thought process. You also get an opportunity to more fully connect with your awareness of your inner critic and your true self. Journaling is thought to connect you with heart-center thinking vs logic-center thinking. I believe journaling opens up our connection with our heart-mind, fostering alignment with our thoughts, intentions, and action. Journaling, as a practice, can heal us, mind, body, and spirit. Our thoughts are part of who we are and create our reality. In awareness of our thoughts from an objective point of view, we pave a new path for our life journey. We can notice our thoughts without having to be them. We learn to be rooted in what matters most. We are no longer a victim of thoughts that are unhelpful, outside circumstances, or other peoples' opinions. We create a relationship with our True Self and become empowered to create a life we love.