Dealing with your inner critic
14 June 2020
All of us, I would guess, have an inner critic - a part of us that judges or criticises us. To some degree the inner critic can help us, for example in maintaining high standards at work.
But for some of us the inner critic is pretty vicious. It may say things like:
“You’re stupid - you never understand things.”
“You’re ugly - no-one would find you attractive”
“You’re lazy - you never get things done.”
“You’re weak - you get upset too easily.”
These are just some of the examples of a harsh inner critic. Many of us don’t even realise we have this negative commentary going on in our heads until we start to pay attention to our thoughts and what we say you ourselves.
Then we discover how noisy this critic is and how it can leave us feeling rather defeated and depressed.
But what can we do to manage this part of ourselves so that we’re not constantly undermined?
I encourage clients to personify their critic. What that means is that, after they’ve become familiar with what their critic says and what the tone of voice is, the client is invited to turn it into a ‘character’.
The client closes their eyes and imagines the voice of their inner critic and then uses their imagination to see the critic as an actual person or creature. It could be a stern headmaster or purse-lipped older woman, or a cartoon character like Cruella de Vil.
It’s also good to give this character a name - ‘critical Katie’, ‘judging John’. Or for some people it’s enough to label it as simply ‘the critic’ or ‘the judge’.
By turning the critic into a character , and thus seeing it as a part of us rather than the whole of us, we’re on the path to taking away some of its power. Much of its power comes from the fact that we identify with it so easily, which means that when it’s judging us we’re taking in the judgments as ‘the truth’.
By seeing it as a part of us, but not the whole of us, we are able to look at the judgments with a bit more perspective and to challenge them.
We can also consciously choose to try and develop a more caring internal voice. As Kristin Neff, author of Self Compassion*, says: “Make an active effort to soften the self-critical voice, but do some with compassion rather than self-judgment (i.e. don’t say ‘you’re such a bitch’ to your inner critic!).
“Say something like, ‘I know you’re trying to…point out ways that I need to improve, but your harsh criticism and judgment are not helping at all.”
Over time, monitoring the voice of the inner critic and practising challenging what it says can make a different. This is especially true if you can also practise putting in place a more caring voice.
* Neff, Kristin, 2011, Self Compassion, Hodder & Stoughton.