Taming our inner critic

You’d probably quite like to be able to switch it off entirely. After all, it can get pretty wearing, being on the receiving end of a very opinionated, sometimes harsh, internal voice. Taming our inner critic is certainly appealing and the good news is that it’s also very possible.

Just as we’ve developed, from an evolutionary perspective, to have an inner critic, it can also come about through the ways we’re spoken to as we go through our early and formative years. Ways we talk to ourselves can be formed over many years and so don’t expect that taming your inner critic will happen overnight. It will take time, and practice.

Lots of practice.

Here are my top tips for taking yours gently by the hand and encouraging it to just shush a little (a bit of an early hint of what’s to come, right here!).

Name and notice it

It might be such a constant companion in your inner life that this sounds kind of crazy. You KNOW it’s there, but how often do you see it as a separate thing to you?

Catching those mean, critical thoughts you have about yourself and attributing those to a distinct and different part of you is actually very helpful.

It starts that process of separating ‘you’ from your thoughts.

You might like to come up with a visual image of yours; mine is a finger wagging, stern faced teacher like figure. Or give it a name like ‘Mean Megan’. The point is that this reminds you that you and your thoughts are not one and the same. You can have a different opinion to it and even disagree with it.

You can even give it some appreciation for what it’s trying to do for you and politely let it know that you don’t need it. You’ve got this!

Look for the good stuff

So, as humans, we’re hardwired to look for the negative. As discussed in my previous blog, it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective to keep ourselves from stepping out of line with our families, communities and society. Our inner critic is a key part of this but we need balance. It’s important to also look for what’s good – to train our brains to focus on that, just as much as it likes to focus on the negative. Reframe and re-orientate daily experiences through practising gratitude, which you can learn more about here

Build and strengthen your ‘compassion muscle’

This is a biggie.

We might learn, as we grow up, to be gentle, kind and compassionate to others. Often this is because our parents, teachers, grandparents and society at large says that we should, and they’re right; it is good to do this. But we matter too and often we’re not taught to do this for ourselves anywhere near as much.

So your skills of self-compassion are likely to need building up. Start small.

  • Notice how often you say ‘sorry’ to others. “Sorry I’m late. Sorry that I cried. Sorry I talked so much”.
    • This communicates a message to ourselves that we’re somehow worth less than others.
    • Swap them for a ‘thank you’. “Thank you for waiting. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for listening”. You get to feel that you’re ok, and they get to feel appreciated.
  • Think of someone (anyone) in your life who is or has been kind to you. Or even an imaginery character that embodies kindness and compassion. Gandalf is a popular choice!
    • Bring to mind their tone of voice, facial expression and words.
    • What would they say to you if you’d had a bad day? How would they talk to you if you’d make a mistake? How would they react to you if you’d struggled with something hard?
    • Practice adopting these gentler, kinder and more loving words, expressions and tones when talking to yourself.

Be your own cheerleader

We’ve looked at the reasons why, and the ways in which, we can be critical of ourselves.

Remember that just as our brains try to keep us in check, us humans also thrive when we are praised. So notice and celebrate your achievements.

Set small, easily won goals. Smile at that person at work that you really don’t get on with and then make sure to give yourself an internal high five when you do it. Tell yourself ‘well done me’, when you got out of the house for a walk when the sofa was looking sooo inviting.

The more we celebrate ourselves the more we counteract the inner critic’s monologue of everything that’s possibly wrong with us.

Taming our inner critic IS possible.

Fernbank Counselling:

Taming our inner critic

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