We all have an inner critic, but you might not even realize it. She can be sly, tricky, and…well…mean!
This is what she might sound like: If you get yourself to the gym first thing in the morning, instead of congratulating you on a job well done, she might take a look in the mirror and say, “Yeah, but your butt looks terrible in those yoga pants!”
No “Rah, rah, well done, YOU!” Just pointing out all that’s still wrong with you, no matter what you do.
It’s exhausting to do your best and then get slammed for it.
Do you know what I’m talking about?
Listen to her, and you’ll constantly doubt yourself, shrink back from life, and play small.
When your well is depleted and you’re not taking care of yourself, she can have an absolute field day with you. She will block your energy, steal your joy, and make a mess of your relationships.
Frankly, not to put too fine a point on it, but your inner critic can be a real bitch.
Yep, I said it. You wouldn’t choose to hang around her if you weren’t lugging her around inside of you, would you?
I often refer to my inner critic as my “inner mean girl.”
Here’s what she had to say one day when my well was depleted and she was being particularly snappy:
“You are so lazy! I can’t believe you didn’t get much done on your to do list today. Geesh, and look how scattered you are…how on earth is Ben supposed to learn good habits when he sees you being disorganized? You can’t do this parenting thing. And look at that pile of laundry on the bathroom floor! THAT’s still there?! You’ve been looking at that for days!”
Oh, my goodness! So mean and defeating. And she’s inside me!
They can be pretty convincing, our inner mean girls — in their hands, we could easily fall prey to believing we are not enough and never will be.
[And by the way, with an internal voice saying nasty things to you incessantly, how likely is it that you’ll be walking around in the world as a beacon of kindness and love? Not very.]
It’s time to (gently) kick her out of the driver’s seat.
But is the answer to judge her, to prepare for battle with her?
No, it’s not. Judging her won’t make her go away, nor will fighting her.
She is misguided, but she is not your enemy. She’s a piece of your ego, scared of what she doesn’t know. She wants to squash any part of you that would stretch you beyond your current comfort zone into a life that feels different and scary to her. So she’ll say anything to keep you small, constricted, and safe.
The first critical step in taming her is to call her out. Become aware of her and notice what she’s saying. Say it out loud or write in in your journal. Make her words real so you can figure out if you want to believe them or not.
There is immense power in this small step because you are interrupting an underground, destructive pattern. This then gives you a choice in how to respond — rather than just taking her words as gospel truth.
Although this step is simple, I won’t say that it’s easy. She can be so tricky that it’s hard to pin down when she’s the one doing the talking. Here’s a hint: chances are good that if that voice inside is making you feel bad, it’s her.
You don’t need to do this activity (or anything for that matter!) perfectly.
You just need to notice her as often and quickly as you can. Pay attention to her language so it doesn’t go underground and suck you dry. As soon as you notice her, she starts to lose her momentum. When she’s running around in your head hurling insults at you, she’s on the loose, wreaking havoc, and gaining steam.
(She may right now be telling you this is silly and that it’s time to go eat lunch. See! She can sound helpful, but she’s really trying to keep you small and safe. She wants you playing the game of life her way.)
But the moment you notice her, something shifts. When you become consciously aware of her words, you have a choice: to believe her or not.
Becoming aware is a process. It’s not a light switch that you turn on once, and it’s on forever. She’s been running rampant for awhile, and taming her won’t be fast. But every time you remember to notice her words and say them out loud (or write them on paper) so you can hear how crazy they are, you’ll make it easier and faster to notice her the next time. And eventually she won’t be calling the shots anymore.
Here are some of the ways you can tell when your inner critic is ramping up her game:
- There’s negative internal chatter cutting you down — cutting down your thoughts, your words, your actions. You can’t catch a break from her.
- Your body feel tense and ready for battle (take a deep breath – in for 4 seconds through your nose, hold for 4 seconds, our for 4 seconds through your mouth. Do you feel your body relax?).
- You feel tentative about taking up space in the world.
- You may feel cut off, indecisive, insecure, ashamed, embarrassed, or “not good enough”.
Here’s an example from one of my coaching clients who is in her 20’s:
“If I am being needy, whiny, greedy, it’s gross.”
Oh my! How would that make you feel? Pretty horrible, right?! One way to handle this is to write it down and then respond to it, “I hear you, but I think that’s harsh, and I’m not giving that idea any more energy.”
Or how about this one from a different client: This is a woman in her 50’s who was struggling in this moment to find a job that suited her.
“I thought I was loving, tender-hearted, creative, giving and beautiful person. But if that’s true, then I wouldn’t be in this financial bind.”
Yikes! What?! What does one have to do with the other?
When we see these examples written on the page, it’s easy to say, “Huh?”
But usually we don’t stop and pay attention. We just let our inner critic say her mean things over and over and over again, not realizing how she is diminishing us.
All you have to do is start to notice her. Observe her antics, bring her words to the forefront of your mind, and be the witness to her craziness. Simply notice. And then decide — do you want your inner critic in the driver’s seat? Or perhaps instead you’d like a voice of love, confidence, and compassion there instead?
I’d love to hear how it goes!