We all have a voice inside our head that says harsh, critical, unloving statements. You know, the one that tells you, “You aren’t ready to do that”, “You can’t pull off wearing that outfit”, “You’re not good enough”. This voice becomes such a part of us that we don’t question its accuracy. We accept the voice and believe what it says. We live as if it is who we are.
The inner critic is your safety instinct
However, the truth is, the inner critic is only A voice. It has one job. The inner critic is supported by the older part of our brain. You’ve heard of the reptilian brain, right? The reptilian brain is there to helps us survive. It includes the amygdala – the fight, flight, freeze center of our brain that is designed to helps us when our body senses danger. Its job is to alert us from physical risk. The problem is, it is activated when it senses emotional risk as well.
How and why the inner critic shows up
Knowing this allows us to see why it shows up in the way that it does. It often has a protective quality that we can misinterpret as helpful. But, the inner critic is often not very accurate; it is very fixated on one thing – eliminating risk. In the process it tends to replay similar narratives or tapes and it also tends to take on very definite claims – it can be very black and white (i.e. “I’m never going to be any good at that”).
The Inner Critic’s “Job”
Think of the inner critic as a department in an organization with various departments that don’t communicate well with one another. The inner critic is not naturally connected to the “departments” in your “organization”. Again, it’s only job is to mitigate risk. It’s not accountable to the joy, fulfillment and growth “departments” within yourself. The good thing is there are some strategies that can reduce the inaccurate messages being share by the inner critic, including steps that allow all of the departments to communicate to one another.
Helpful steps that allow us to not take direction from the inner critic:
1) Notice and observe when the inner critic is surfacing. Become mindfully aware of the voice and what it is saying.
2) Slow down and acknowledge “That is my inner critic talking”
3) Get curious “What is motivating the inner critic in this moment?” “What does my safety instinct not like about this situation?”
4) Remind yourself that the inner critic’s intentions are good but, its directions are inaccurate. It’s like that nagging friend or relative that likes to tell you what to do; they mean well, but…. This awareness allows us to soften towards the voice rather than try to push it away (retreat) or get emotionally flooded (angry, upset, overwhelmed).
5) Give compassion to that voice. Talk to it like you would talk to a child you are caring for “That’s the scared voice that wants to protect you”. “It’s going to be okay. I recognize this is scary but we will get through this.”
6) Remind yourself that it is okay to hear the inner voice. You don’t want to dismiss it completely; there is often some wisdom there. But, you don’t need to take direction from it either.
7) When the voice is trying to stop you from doing something positive remind yourself of your goals and values. Replace the inner critic with the following questions:
“Who am I called to?”
“Who do I want to serve?”
“What brings me joy?”
I sincerely hope you have found this post helpful and motivating towards treating yourself with a little more kindness. If you are interested in learning more about how you can be kinder to yourself, please know that I am available to help you navigate down the self-compassionate path.