“You’re not good enough.”
“Don’t try this, you’ll fail!”
“Nobody really likes you. You’re unlovable.”
“You’re too fat!”
“You’re too thin!”
“Normal people don’t do this!”
“You should have more control.”
“Everyone else knows their purpose, I should know mine!”
“What will people think?”
Almost every client I have worked with (and me!) has a ruthless inner critic.
The inner critic is developed early in life to keep us safe. They try to protect us from the criticisms of others’ by getting in first. Inner critics come from the parts of ourselves that we had to suppress (i.e. marginalise) in order to fit in with family, friends, religious and cultural expectations. They are judgemental toward those who stand out too much or try to be special. No matter what you do, you cannot please your inner critic.
The problem is that inner critics don’t know when to stop…
Attacks from the inner critic can be triggered in many different situations, such as when stressed, in unfamiliar situations, when things don’t go our way, when we feel vulnerable or even around particular people. Inner critics can be the ultimate relationship saboteur.
Outer bullies can be seen easily but inner critics are hard to pin down; they are invisible, they are everywhere and nowhere. Inner critics love to dredge up the past and have an amazing memory. They know all your secrets and what you’re trying to hide.
Simply put, inner critics abuse the inner child.
Killer inner critics are often the root of suicidal thoughts.
Keeping the inner critic secret serves only to make it stronger.
The good news is that there is something you can do about it.
How to work with your inner critic.
1. Contemplate and accept that there is a reason why your inner critic exists in the form it does.
2. Journal (or at least write down) some of the things your inner critic says. Does it sound like anyone you have known? If so, who? Give yourself some time to let the inner critic speak, try journaling from it for ten or so minutes.
3. Notice when your inner critic attacks. There will be particular circumstances. Once you have worked out when and where, then you know where to put your attention. Explore these parts of yourself either by yourself or with a therapist.
Something to look out for: Two common response to attacks from the inner critic are withdrawal or neediness.
4. Give yourself permission to be ordinary! When you stop trying to be ‘amazing’ you can be more present and put in your best effort. It will be more than enough.
5. Look below! Convert distress to understanding. The judgemental stabbings of the inner critic are actually a cry for help. It is a call to realise that on some level there is a fear, anxiety or unhappiness from which you’re trying to protect yourself.
Engage your inner critic in a dialogue with rest of you, e.g. your conscious, loving self. You will be amazed at what happens. Journaling is a zero cost way of having that dialogue. working with clients I have found psychodrama to work very well.
6. Become a parent to your inner critic. Once you find the concerns under the inner critic’s judgements, take them seriously. Just to be clear, don’t take the words of the inner critic seriously, rather find the anxiety, fear or unhappiness that sits underneath that and take that seriously. By acting on the underlying feeling the inner critic will start to lose his or her sting.
7. Be gentle. Inner transformation happens in an instant and relatively easily when the preparatory work has been done with love.