written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Today’s post is about making peace with your inner critic. You know, that little voice inside that says meaner things to you than you would ever say to anyone else. That voice that immobilizes you sometimes into inaction, emotional instability and self-doubt.
First lets lay the framework to help think about this issue from a different angle than you may be used to. Think about when you go to a restaurant. If it is a restaurant you have never been to, what do you do? Maybe take a peek at the menu? Ask your friend or a server what they recommend? Think about the multitude of internal suggestions that can come up just from looking at a menu. First you might ask yourself what you are in the mood for. Then you might look at the prices and have a conversation with yourself about that. Then you might think about the nutritional value of the meal you are thinking of. You might remember a time you had a meal like the one you are considering on the menu and were happy, or unhappy with the way it tasted. Really, there is almost an endless number of ways our minds can go simply by sitting down and looking at a menu. And, if this is true for most of us about ordering a meal, just imagine the number of internal conversations that go on about parenting!
To simplify things, I am going to call the different internal suggestions you receive parts. The part of you that does the budgeting for your family asks about the price of the meal. The part of you that asks about the nutritional value, we could call the health conscious part (or it could be your inner critic depending on the tone). Another part would be the memory bearer for a specific occasion when you had a similar meal, etc. We all have parts. All of us. When I say we have parts I do not mean that we are all suffering from multiple personalities, rather I am stating that we all have learned experiences that come to mind in relation to each situation we encounter throughout the day. There are some “parts” that we all have and one of them is the inner critic.
When it comes to the inner critic, most of us try to do what we have been told to do with bullies… ignore, stand proud, pretend they don’t exist, etc. but we all know that doesn’t really work with bullies most of the time and with an inner critic it can be even worse! You can’t get away from your inner critic. It’s you! Oftentimes, ignoring it only makes it like your children when you are on the phone, louder and louder until you are forced to take notice. Instead, let’s look at making peace with the inner critic.
I know it’s hard to believe, but most often, when we look inside to the purpose of the messages we get from an inner critic it has something to do with protecting us from a sad, mad, or disappointed feeling. It may have something to do with protecting us from criticism, anxiety or upset. For a moment, reflect upon what the purpose of a particular message that you get from your inner critic that you would like to change.
If possible, take a minute to put aside all of the criticisms you have about the delivery of the message and practice looking for the helpfulness of it. Believe it or not, the true intent of the underlying messages from the inner critic tend to be something like:
- I never want you to feel that hurt/disappointed/angry/used again.
- I don’t want people to treat you badly.
- You deserve better.
- Stay alert and attuned to what you are doing/ what is happening.
- Trust your instincts.
- Be true to yourself.
The packaging of that message tends to sound like:
- What’s wrong with you?
- How could you be so stupid?
- Don’t do that anymore, you’re just going to get hurt.
- How could you have trusted that person?
- What a mess you have made of your life.
Remember that the underlying message or your critic is a loving one, it is the packaging of the message that hurts. This understanding sets the groundwork of the conversation that you can have to help turn your inner critic into a loving inner guide.
To get in touch with an inner critic and begin the process of trying to turn it into a helpful voice, there is a process I would suggest. Before you go through the process, I recommend you read through it to get an understanding of the intention of the exercise. In this exercise, you will get in touch with your inner critic and have a conversation with him or her about changing the tone of the conversations you have. If you have difficulty doing this exercise, please do not push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take this idea to a therapist that is familiar with Internal Family Systems work (IFS) and they will guide you through it. Some people will feel more comfortable making this a writing exercise. That is fine, however, make sure that you are taking a moment to breathe first and that you have tuned into your inner world.
Getting in touch with your inner critic:
Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet grounded to the floor. Relax your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths. If it feels right to you, you can close your eyes.
Determine a particular message that your critic sends your way. For most of us, it won’t take long for a thought to pop into our head that reminds us of something critical we have said toward ourselves.
Continuing to breathe in and out, gently look inside your mind and ask yourself what the purpose is of this message. Find the loving message that is underneath the criticism. It may help to think of a particular time your inner critic said the message to you. When you think about what the circumstances are when you receive the message, it helps you to identify what the message was about.
Take a moment to absorb the loving message hidden in the criticism.
Do your best to thank you inner critic for sending you that loving message.
Ask your inner critic if next time they want to give you that message, they could try to give it to you in a way that is easier for you to hear.
Communicate to your inner critic the way you might like to hear the message next time.
Promise your inner critic that rather than ignoring the loving message, you will take note of it, you will acknowledge the message, but that ultimately you will need to take everything into account and decide what is best.
Ask your inner critic if there is anything you need to do for it to trust you more, so it can take some time off from all it’s hard work.
When you are done with this exercise. Reflect on what, if anything, that your inner critic said you would need to do to earn more trust. If your inner critic suggested something, reflect on whether that thing is do-able for you.
While I have been talking about the inner critic in the singular, many of us have multiple inner critics. One or more may have the voice of a parent or early caregiver. Another may have the voice of a shamed earlier version of you that did not know how to cope with a particular difficult situation like the ending of a relationship whether it be via break-up, abandonment or death, a traumatic memory, a feeling of being isolated and overwhelmed by a life circumstance or something else. This exercise will help you as the inner criticisms arise to examine them and to make peace now that you are an older, wiser person and know you can choose a different perspective.
Making peace with your inner critic will help not only you but the people around you, especially your children because, as I’m sure you can figure out, the voice of our inner critic also tends to become the voice of our children’s inner critic as well.
- The Art of Breathing (help4yourfamily.com)
- Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)
- To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)
- Finding the Right Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Happy Parent Tip #1
- Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager
- Naming Patterns Changes Patterns
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple