Updated: Nov 8, 2021
When I look back over my life to date, it has been a real rollercoaster of ups and downs, with plenty of challenges to overcome, the majority of them stemming from my own relationship with my mind and emotions. Today, I want to talk about my ‘inner critic.’ I was asking my sister what I should blog about next, and she suggested this- because we ALL have one of these, whether we suffer from mental health issues or not.
The inner critic is that mental voice that appears to narrate our moments of shame, or times when we feel less confident or fearful around our performance/behaviour. Some of us have meaner inner critics than others- some are very loud, and persistent, and are not balanced out by loving or more grounded inner voices.
Six years ago, my inner critic was very loud, very persistent and had no one to reign her in, or balance her mean diatribes. The kinds of experiences I had with her were: in my new job, she said things like “You don’t belong here, sooner or later they will all realise you’re not up to the job and you’ll be fired.” When I started writing a novel, she said “Why are you bothering? Noone wants to read anything you’ve written- you can’t write.” When I spoke in a meeting or delivered a presentation she’d be there “You’re gonna f**** this up and everyone is gonna laugh at you. You’re still that terrified little girl that had to sit down during assembly because you were too scared to play your recorder in front of everyone.” In short, she was a real b***. She never had anything kind or supportive to say, and I believed every word of it.
Where had she come from? The energy of her voice hadn’t materialised from nowhere. She had grown, as I had grown. I would consider her to be part of what Eckhart Tolle calls ‘the pain body.’ The pain body is an energetic entity that lives in all of us and becomes more substantial if we feed it. How do we feed it? With our pain and shame. Any situation we have encountered from childhood onwards, where we have felt unworthy, less-than, foolish, unloved or unheard-all painful emotions, stay within us and become tension patterns in the body or mind. In the body, they can manifest as the tight jaw, sore throat or funny tummy when we get nervous. In the mind, they manifest as the inner critic.
The inner critic takes on criticism we have had from our parents, grandparents or siblings at an early age, or that we have interpreted from our experiences, and repeats it, sometimes in the same words or even taking on the voices of those that originally said it. It begins in childhood and it forms mental patterns based upon those early beliefs about self. Here’s the kicker- any further criticism or perceived slights in adulthood will be added to this mental ‘schema,’ filing neatly into the ready made boxes we have already formed in our ‘all about me’ filing system.
So you can see that if any of those negative early impressions about self were simply not true (as is often the case) it’s very hard to unravel them, because our adult selves continue to assume that they are inherent parts of the ‘filing system’ and therefore link new memories to those same categories. For example: when I was six, my biological father left and didn’t return home. This led to a core belief in me that it must be my fault because I am not ‘right’ somehow or not worthy of love. This is the fallacious reasoning, and raw emotion of a six year old child. However, that didn’t stop my adult self from continuing to believe my inner child and choosing partners in relationships who were emotionally detached and would continue to ‘prove’ this core belief I had of myself as fundamentally unlovable.
So, the question is; what can we do to manage our relationship with the inner critic?
First of all, we need to listen and really hear what he/she/they are saying. That part is painful. Often, the voice is there, but if we aren’t tuned in enough, it will simply feel like anxiety or stress. Sitting, breathing and getting still enough to hear the voice is the first part. I actually started writing down some of the phrases that my inner critic was saying. Sometimes, there is more than one internal voice. An exercise I did in therapy was to draw my inner critic or draw ‘them’ (plural) I cartoonified them as this took some of the power away. It also helps to give it or them a name. The sillier the better. It’s good if you can talk to a therapist or counsellor about those voices and where you think they might have come from.
When your inner critic starts talking to you, the first thing is to practice noticing it in the moment. This takes practice and a good amount of self awareness or consciousness. Then there are options. The first, is to balance it out with some other nicer, caring responses. You can even write these out in preparation, for when you hear a core belief about self ‘theme’ come up- then you can respond with one of your more supportive comments from your earlier prep.
E.g. Imagine you’re at work about to give a presentation and you’re stressed/nervous. Your inner critic starts saying something like “You’re gonna mess this up. You know it. Remember that time you…? (provides a memory of the one time you made a mistake) Now is the time to respond. Mentally bring in a caring inner voice (choose someone supportive from your real life) that responds to the inner critic “Of course we are nervous, but that’s because we care about doing well. That mistake was years ago and we’ve delivered many successful presentations since then. This is going to go well because of all the preparation.”
The other option is to notice the inner critic’s voice coming up, remember your cartoon depiction and give them a silly voice to go with it. Say to yourself “Oh it’s Mildred again. Miserable c**. Always droning on in there. I wish she’d give it a rest. This takes the power away from your inner critic, and reminds you that everything you think is not fact.
I’ll repeat this, because it is the key to managing your inner critic.
Not everything you think is fact.
What’s strange is that most of the time we know this- duh. But when it comes to berating ourselves, we can so easily forget this simple truth. So those two techniques above, serve to take the wind out of the sails of your inner critic.
The other option is befriending your inner critic. How and why would you do that? Well, she/he/they are giving you some very important information. They are telling you (indirectly) where you need to heal; where there is still a wounded child inside of you that believes they are not enough or not worthy. When the inner critic starts talking, your pain body is hurting. There is something in this new situation that is reminding them of a time in your past that you are still carrying with you. You can use your caring voice to soothe the child behind the inner critic. To remind them that you have their back and you believe in them.
I’m aware that these techniques are easier to talk about than to enact. Believe me, they take practice and it is difficult. But it’s worth it, over a lifetime of beating yourself up berating yourself. After a while these become new patterns and habits of mind and you’ll find that your inner critic is quieter most of the time, even silent! I speak from experience. Obviously it helps if you have someone to guide you through these CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) techniques, but if you can’t afford therapy, it’s at least somewhere to start.
This post has been way longer than I initially imagined but I hope you got something out of it, particularly if you are suffering from a loud and persistent inner critic. There is a way to sooth the critic and to learn to love yourself again. I did it so I believe you can too! As always, if you want to share feel free to pm me. My ear is always here for anyone who is suffering with their inner world. Before I go, I'd like to share with you a kundalini meditation to use when you are struggling with your inner critic and need grounding.
KIRTAN KRIYA: For grounding, bringing total mental balance and releasing energy from past relationships. This one comes with clinical research backing its' efficacy; A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016 found Kirtan Kriya improved brain functioning by increasing connectivity, improving memory and boosting mood.
Sit with legs crossed, palms face up on the knees. Ensure your back is straight and your chin slightly tucked in to protect and lengthen your neck.
The mantra we will be using is SAA TAA NAA MAA. Listening to the sound and the vibration it makes in your body matters more than the meaning of the mantra. This meditation bypasses the inner critic by allowing your mind to focus upon something else. Here is a track I often use to do this meditation.
3. The hands will move in different 'mudras' or postures. As below:
4. Sit with the eyes closed and repeat the mantra with the hand cycles for a minimum of 3 minutes. 5 minutes or 11 minutes are suitable increments. You can also do this meditation walking around if you find it hard to sit still for any length of time.
Enjoy! Much love and light to you all.