Making Peace with Your Inner Critic
Self-talk is the stuff we do every waking hour. Positive self-talk can increase confidence, and thereby give you what we used to "charisma." (No I'm not talking about a Dungeons and Dragons character stat.) You might also call it internal monologue. It combines conscious thoughts with unconscious beliefs and biases.
As humans, we're prone to give into negative self-talk. It's just human nature.
But, a lot of that internal monologue is stuff that doesn't even belong to us. It's baggage that we internalized from other people over time, and usually stuff we picked up as kids.
We won't get into the blame game. Instead, let's focus on a few ideas to help deal with all the things we tell ourselves.
Making Friends with Your Inner Critic
Remember: your inner critic isn't always a problem. Sometimes, that "negative self-talk" is there for a reason - like to protect us from something dangerous. If we're about to jump off a cliff without a parachute, we'd probably like our inner critic to say, "You can't fly, goofnut!" I mean - sometimes there's good reason for fear, yes?
But when it isn't protective, when it isn't serving us, we can try to make friends with it.
- Increase awareness. You may be so used to your inner critic that you hardly think about what it’s saying. Start changing your relationship by trying to understand what it wants to tell you. I refer to this as "witnessing." In order to witness your inner critic, the real trick is just to acknowledge that it's telling you something, and then let it pass. It gets easier with practice.
- Look back. Take a few moments to explore your memories. What’s your first memory of your inner critic? Sometimes the voice of the inner critic is literally the voice of a person from your past. For me, my inner critic sounds like myself nowadays. But it used to sound like my grandmother. As soon as I identified what wasn't mine, but which I adopted from someone else, the inner critic took on a new voice. Once it started sounding like me most of the time, I realized something: I can consciously choose whether or not I desire to keep the belief that it is bringing up for me.
- Focus on growth. Maybe your inner voice says you’re bad at math because you failed a test in the third grade. In reality, you’re not stuck in your past. Adopt a growth mindset that enables you to become whatever you want as long as you’re willing to put in the work to get there. I was never told as a kid that, "You can do anything you put your mind to." I had to start telling myself that on my own. But as long as we believe we can grow in a positive direction, and we start using the self-talk to install that new belief, we can make this change.
- Try meditation. Many adults find that meditation helps them reconnect with the Divine in a way that serves them, and then they can use this relationship to a Higher Power of their own understanding to help them move forward, and/or better handle the inner critic. My experience in meditating regularly has allowed me to learn good focus, and I can block out some of the most annoying noises these days. But because of that experience, I can reconnect to the Divine in meditation and prayer, and hear what Spirit has to say about me, as opposed to what my human ego has to say.
Silencing Your Inner Critic
There are times, of course, when you really just need a break. Remember: the inner critic, that negative self-talk, is really human nature. So it's okay to have it. There's no reason to judge yourself for it. But when you get into a state of panic because of it, that means it's time to step back, and put your inner critic in a corner for a timeout.
- Seek distractions. Shift your attention elsewhere. Take a walk or read a book. Spend some time doing anything that you enjoy. Even if all you can muster to do is to play a game of Solitaire on the computer, at least you're distracting yourself in some way from the negative self-talk.
- Make your inner critic a comic. Ever since watching the series Bob's Burgers, I love to imagine my inner critic sounds like Linda, Bob's wife. It makes the negative self-talk hilarious! And every time my inner critic pipes up with some off-wall criticism for something inconsequential, I can laugh it off because I can make it sound like Linda.
- Identify triggers. Give yourself advance warning. Figure out the situations where your inner critic is likely to appear. If you're sensitive to panicking on first dates, for example, or on job interviews, your inner critic will likely pop up at these times to tell you how you're not quite up to par - ego likes to pull the old impostor syndrome out at these times. People have different trigger situations for the inner critic, but if you can witness and notice when these are for you, you have a better chance of navigating the funky voice.
- List your strengths. If you’re tired of hearing about your weaknesses, remember your strengths. Make a list of the things you’re good at - baking bread, making pumpkin roll, meal-planning your week out, or even just being good at sitting in the silence. List everything you're good at, and take a brief moment to remember situations where your talents and skills came in handy.
- Correct exaggerations. Sometimes the inner critic likes to pipe up with statements that far overshoot the reality of the situation. Actually, that's 99% of the time. Those negative statements that pop up are usually the exact opposite of the truth. For example, when my inner critic tells me that my house is a wreck, it's most likely because the kitchen trash hasn't been emptied. It's not stinky, and it's not causing a health hazard because it's stored far away from food prep areas. So when the inner critic says, "Your house is disgusting, look at that garbage overflowing," it's a good idea to correct it. "Um, no it's not overflowing, and my house isn't going to be condemned because the bag is more full this week than last. Hush your piehole."
- Use affirmations. Repeating positive affirmations can give you a boost when you’re feeling down. I often make my own affirmations because they resonate with me. And when I do, I make sure they make me feel good. A positive, present-tense statement can make a world of difference. One of my favorite affirmations is, "Spirit is on my side; everything works out for my highest good, and I don't have to worry about it."
- Remember your worth. Being tough on yourself can make you feel like absolute trash. I've been there, and it's not an easy habit to break. But you can make little changes by telling yourself that you deserve to be happy and successful, because you do. Your worth is not tied to someone else's definition of success, though, so be sure to define what happiness and success mean to you. Make it a conscious decision.
Your self-talk can make or break the situations in your life. A statement repeated is a statement that becomes a belief. You can change your beliefs by repetition, which then affects your interaction with the world around you. And as your interaction with the world changes, so do the situations that appear in your life. Start with your inner critic - making friends with them can completely realign your vibration.