Accurately self-assessing our capabilities, decisions, actions, and words through a clear lens is natural. Through self-evaluation, we keep ourselves in check and balanced. It’s the little voice in our head that warns us if something is misaligned or nudges us in a myriad of other ways in our everyday living.
We learned this ability when we were young and developed it as we grew older. It’s a strength, a skill that keeps us grounded and aligned with our values as well as those of the larger community in which we live so we can enjoy and be enjoyed.
A Strength Overdone Is a Weakness: The Inner Critic
Yet, the inner voice intended to be a strength is somehow overdone and twisted into something much different, ugly and destructive. The voice is no stranger. We all have one: The Inner Critic.
The Inner Critic is a voice and worldview based on childhood experiences or the words and/or judgments of an influential figure(s) in our lives about us, others, society or our role in society during our formative years.
Because these people were who they were, said what they said, and the decisions and judgments they made were to be respected, we internalized them.
Rather than providing balance, the Inner Critic ran unrestrained to either over-criticize and diminish us or drive us to meet the unrealistic demands of others and ourselves.
You are worthless. You are stupid. You’ll always be ugly and fat. You’ll never be as good as I am. You suck. You’ll never make it. You are scared. You’re a failure. You are a fraud, a fake, a poser. You’re a waste. You can’t let them down. You must be the best. You’re a disappointment.
Left unchecked, the familiar voice of the Inner Critic erodes our self-esteem as it either keeps us captive in the small box it creates or pushes us beyond our own physical, emotional, or psychological limits to reach for something unhealthy, unrealistic and never within our grasp.
The Inner Critic is fear made tangible, the voice of emotional distress and an inner cry for help.
At its harshest, living becomes self-imprisonment in a world of anxiety and depression, self-medicated in self-destructive lifestyle choices (binge eating, addictions) as we either attempt to live out their fake truths or fight to silence them.
Often as time marches on we wind up living a self-fulfilling prophecy: We bring about the reality that we once feared and was voiced by our Inner Critic. “I told you so” reverbs off the walls in our minds.
It’s Not About Silencing but Living with the Inner Critic
Because these voices have been with us for so long, we forgot we chose to put on those clothes.
As enmeshed as a strand of DNA, we mistook these as part of us, as our own voices. However, these voices are not our own and are not truly a part of us.
If your Inner Critic has become a vicious and unruly master, perspective and balance pave the road to wellness.
I’ve heard the phrase, “silencing the inner critic.” It’s not about silencing but learning to live with the Inner Critic.
You have to understand the source: the voice or voices of your Inner Critic. Once you understand, you can provide perspective and balance.
My Inner Critic is a powerful amalgamation of influential people and key events in my life which I’ve allowed to steamroll into silence my own voice.
Writing or Journaling
Journaling is a great avenue to uncover your Inner Critic. I’ve done some journaling exercises which have both enlightened and surprised me.
As an example, I wrote a journal entry from the perspective of my seven-year-old self. I wrote with my non-dominant hand (my left, I’m a righty) and used names, even my own nickname, and places which were relevant to me when I was seven.
Given to skepticism (also a part of my Inner Critic), I thought this would be a complete waste of time. Yet, the results surprised me when I later reviewed the entry. The writing was expressive, unlocked memories, and left me clear-headed and peaceful.
Perspective, Logic and the So What?
Because so much of inner criticism is emotionally driven and largely not fact-based, you can gut-check the Inner Critic with perspective and logic.
Either through journaling or as a thought discipline, confront the voice of your Inner Critic.
If you have an important presentation on Monday and your Inner Critic is telling you, despite adequate preparation, that you’re no good and it’s going to be a disaster, gain perspective.
Try to objectively analyze the situation with questions: What evidence (experiences or feedback) do I have that tells me I’m no good at presenting? If I’ve got some lessons learned, what are they and what can I do to prepare differently so I can leverage them as building blocks to success?
What’s the worst that can happen? Will they get up and walk out (unlikely)? Will you be fired (illogical and equally unlikely)? If you tanked and they left the presentation or you were fired, so what? You would get another job.
Developing perspective and asking, “So what?” helps to stop the cycle of catastrophic, extreme thinking driven by anxiety. They help balance thoughts and emotions with logic that will lend a clearer, rational perspective to any situation.
Renew the Mind via Body and Spirit
You will find it difficult to achieve sustainable success by focusing solely on the retraining of your mind without also attending to your body and spirit.
The Internet is littered with many ways to achieve a renewal of the mind by qualified experts far smarter than me. Great resources are available and only as distant as a few keyboard clicks in a search engine away.
When successful, I simplify and focus my activities. I limit television while spending time in prayer, meditation, box breathing, spiritual study and exercise. Also, I find activities to get me out of my own head like volunteering, as well as spending time with family and friends.
Like with the source and intensity of the Inner Critic, needs and solutions will vary widely with the persons.
The key is understanding the road to wellness is not accomplished in isolation. Mind, body, and spirit are in symbiosis. You cannot ignore one without compromising the others; likewise, you cannot heal one without treating the others.
Accepting Yourself As-Is
Part and parcel of learning to live with your Inner Critic is learning to live with you. Accepting yourself, as you are now, is a large part of any battle and this one is no different. This one is tough especially if your Inner Critic has been roaming around unleashed and unfiltered for a long while.
Accepting yourself as-is doesn’t mean accepting defeat nor does it mean that you will always be as you are now. It’s simply finding the good in you as you are in this moment while working on a new tomorrow.
Finding and Minding Your Own Voice
What resources or activities have you found to be effective? How have you learned to live in balance and peace?
Turning your Inner Critic into your inner critic takes time and effort. That voice may be more familiar to you than your own. Success may take many knock-down, get-back-up starts and restarts.
That’s ok. The journey is worth it.
Finding yourself in your new tomorrow based on dreams rooted in your own voice is priceless.
That’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow’s another light.
From one sojourner to another, all the best.