We all have an inner critic. It's the voice inside that judges, criticizes, belittles, demeans, disparages, and attacks us. It's the ongoing negative internal monologue about our failings. The inner critic questions our decisions, undermines our accomplishments, rejects our innate sense of worth, and leaves us feeling less than.
The inner critic says should/shouldn't, can't, don't, won't, never, nothing, always, no. It's the voice that criticizes our thoughts, beliefs, actions, relationships, identity. It's the voice that says you are stupid, dumb, worthless, unlovable, weird, damaged, broken. It's the voice that says, "Why are you so ______?"
The inner critic can become oppressive. It can fill us with chronic self-doubt and prevent us from trying new things, connecting with others, taking risks, being vulnerable, trusting, and accepting ourselves.
The wild part is that the inner critic is actually trying to help: it keeps us down in order to protect us from feeling the shame of failure. We often internalize the inner critic in response to childhood experiences of rejection, neglect, abuse, and/or the fear of disapproval. In response to that pain and vulnerability, we develop the inner critic as a protector, however hurtful it may be. Sometimes that inner critical voice sounds strikingly similar to one we heard in childhood telling us we will never be good enough.
How do we work with the inner critic?
I invite you to notice when your inner critic is talking. A great way to identify the inner critic is when you hear highly judgmental negative generalizations about yourself (e.g., "You suck.").
What kind of name would you give this voice? You might choose a general name like, The Bully, The Bitch, The Mean One, or perhaps the specific name of a person (real or imagined) who you associate with this voice.
When you hear the inner critic, you can evaluate the things it says. I invite you to ask yourself: Is this actually true? Is this an accurate assessment? What else might be true? Is there a more realistic and compassionate way to phrase this?
The inner critic says, "You're so stupid."
You respond, "Hello [inner critic's name]. Sometimes I struggle with a specific task and I am smart and capable in many ways."
The inner critic tells the story of our inadequacy. What would it be like to change the narrative? I invite you to try to transform the criticism by identifying and affirming the potential positive value of the qualities your inner critic judges.
The inner critic says, "You're such a depressed person that no one will ever love you."
You respond, "Hello [inner critic's name]. I am a person who experiences depressive symptoms. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by sadness. This sadness also allows me to embrace vulnerability, to open my heart with compassion to myself and to others."
When we try to reject or suppress the inner critic, it simply resists. I invite you to cultivate compassion for this inner critical part. The parts that harm us are trying to help us, to keep our most vulnerable parts protected. What would it be like to embrace this part, to recognize that it is suffering from confusion and fear? When we befriend our parts, we cultivate self-compassion.
I hope these exercises allow you to identify your inner critic, make choices about how you want to work with this part, and feel some relief from the pain of internal judgment.
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