“Why did you say that? You sound like a stupid jerk.”
“Don’t even bother trying. You can’t do it. Do you want everyone to laugh at you?”
“Just look at her. She’s confident and gorgeous and always knows just what to say. Why would someone like her ever want to spend time with someone like you?”
Does this voice sound familiar? Are you wondering if I’ve been eavesdropping in your head? Or maybe your inner critic’s complaints carry a different message. But the effect is the same.
Chances are you’ve heard a criticism or two from inside your own skull.
How do you handle it?
Do you try to ignore it? Plug your ears? Try to shout over it? Do you believe what it’s telling you? Or try to lock it so deep its condemning voice can’t be heard? Maybe you engage in shouting matches, slinging the insults right back. Or try to kick it out of your head all together.
How is that working out for you?
Maybe the answer isn’t to learn to ignore your inner critic or to finally conquer it. Maybe the most effective thing you can do to calm down the criticism is to listen and show your inner critic some compassion.
I know. Compassion is the last thing you’re feeling toward the nasty voice in your head. Just hear me out.
First of all, you can’t just get rid of your inner critic. Like it or not, it’s part of you.
And ignoring it or calling it names isn’t going to make it speak more kindly to you. Just the opposite. You’re not being kind to yourself by trying to crush the criticism in this way. You’re actually criticizing a part of you and adding to the insults and name calling in your mind.
Instead, try this.
Think of your inner critic as a small child who thinks she has something very important to tell you. Something she believes is necessary for your protection and well-being. While she has a very unhelpful way of showing it, she cares about you and is determined to give you her message no matter what it takes. If you ignore her or tell her to shut up, she’s going to do what any child would do when desperate to be heard.
She’s going to get louder and more obnoxious.
And this will continue until her message is heard. It may seem contradictory that our inner critic is so mean if she’s trying to protect us. But she’s just doing the only thing she knows how to do to be heard. If you believe someone you care about is in grave danger do you worry about hurting his feelings? No, you start screaming. Our inner critic is no different.
But that doesn’t mean we have to take the abuse.
Just because there is a reason for our inner critics behavior doesn’t mean the behavior is ok.
Think about what your inner critic needs—for you to hear the message it believes is so very important. Think about what you need—to be informed of the concern in a way that doesn’t feel like an attack. Now you can change the way you interact with your inner critic.
You can listen to what your inner critic has to say while refusing to listen to self-abuse.
Establish some boundaries and enforce them. When your inner critic is on a rampage, you can say, “Hey, I’d really like to hear what you have to say, but it’s hard to listen when you are calling me names and making me feel bad about myself. Can you please rephrase your message using kinder words?”
Personally, I find it very helpful to actually write out dialogues between myself and my inner critic in my journal. I’ll admit it felt a little hokey at first, but getting the words down on paper gives me some emotional distance from the criticisms in my head and reminds me I’m choosing to listen. It also gives my inner critic an outlet to make her message heard. Maybe journaling isn’t your thing, but find a way of talking with your inner critic that works for you.
You can ask for a rephrase anytime your inner critic’s words are making it hard to hear its message. As your inner critic feels heard, it will feel less need to rely on extreme tactics to deliver its message.
You may still not agree with what your inner critic has to say. Or it may have a very valid, helpful point to share.
But until you can communicate kindly with your inner critic you can’t hear its message clearly and decide for yourself.
So what is your inner critic trying to tell you? How are you choosing to listen?