Three things you need to know about your inner Critic
Your inner Critic isn’t your friend… at least, not yet
Your inner Critic loves to talk to you about how much you suck. You should have said this, you shouldn’t have said that, you deserve this, you don’t deserve that. And since the Critic has been with you for most of your life, she or he (in my case, it’s a he) knows exactly which buttons to push. After all, he helped install them.
For simplicity, the gender of your Critic will alternate with each paragraph.
First, you’ll notice that she never shuts up
Your critic is happy to lecture you about anything: your career, your body, your family, your love life. She will lecture you about how badly you are meditating, or listening to your kids. How other people don’t like you and how you suck. Your Critic has no problem throwing other people under the bus, judging how others look, dress, talk, and how much they don’t measure up. But then she will turn the tables and stab you in the back. Because judging others will always lead back to judging yourself.
Second, your Critic is often wrong
My inner critic contradicts himself all the time. “You’re too ambitious, you’re supposed to be spiritual,” he’ll say one moment. And then the next, “you’re not ambitious enough, and your friends are more successful than you are.” I’m too assertive; I’m not assertive enough. I’m too loud; I’m too introverted. Too normal, too weird. Really, my inner critic flips positions more than most politicians. And yet, always with a sense of conviction and certainty.
And finally, the Critic hates attention
I try to meditate as often as I can. But no matter how often I meditate or for how long, and no matter how many retreats I go on, my Critic is right there. Nothing will shut the Critic up. And in fact, the more that we try to find balance, be spiritual, practice gratitude or calm our minds… it actually makes the Critic even more visible.
So what can we do?
It may feel unnatural, but the more you fight with her, the stronger your Critic becomes. Learning to get to know your Critic, will teach you to not to take her so seriously. Often – quite often – a mean, self-critical thought will come into my head, something meaner than I’d ever say to someone else. I am learning to be more gentle with myself, “Ha! Critic! I see you! And I am not impressed.”
You may notice that the Critic’s opinions aren’t really your opinions. You picked them up somewhere along the way – maybe from your parents, from society, or from just trying to survive whatever you have faced along the way. It helps me to realize that my Critic is actually trying to help. And that shift is life-changing.
Over time, I have learned to drop the struggle with my Critic. I have learned to recognize his voice. He talks, but I don’t have to allow my Critic to dictate my actions. I can’t tell you the number of emails, text messages, and cutting remarks that I’ve not sent out into the world because I recognized that the Critic was the one speaking. That, too, is a game-changer.
None of us can beat the Critic: not you, and not me. The judgments, the self criticism, the reminders of your worst moments cannot be silenced. But they can be tamed.
Making peace with your Critic begins when you stop taking it so seriously.
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I invite you to read a related piece that I wrote, “Self Judgment and the Imposter Syndrome.”
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