If you believe your inner critic when it is attacking you with its caustic commentary, you will feel inadequate, unattractive, unworthy, lazy, stupid and foolish, to name a few things. The inner critic is the voice within that berates you for straying from your diet or exercise routine, shames you for getting a B+ instead of an A on a school assignment and demeans you for saying the ‘wrong thing’ to your cousin at a family dinner. Who you are and what you do is never good enough. You can never measure up. Identifying with this part of you is one of the primary contributors to low self esteem and unworthiness.
When the Dalai Lama came to the US and started working with Westerners he was baffled and surprised at how pervasive perfectionism and low self esteem were in our culture. We have been inundated with implicit and explicit messages from advertising, our families, and our educational and religious institutions that we are ‘not enough.’ We must be more, do more, have more. We must look perfect, always act appropriately and be constantly working to improve and ‘better’ ourselves. The inner critic is never satisfied.
The critic is a voice within you that you have mistakenly identified with and believed. It is an internalization of expectations that have been imposed on us by others and blaming, judging and shaming messages that have been directed at us for much of our lives. The good news is that the critic is not who we are and we can become free of its oppressive influence.
Here are some tips for disarming the inner critic. It helps to have a ‘critic toolkit’, a variety of strategies to use at different times.
- Get to know your inner critic and recognize when it is present. Write down the critical thoughts, see if the voice is male or female, notice when and how it shows up in your life. Ask yourself if the messages remind you of anyone from your past. A parent? Both parents? Siblings? Teachers or religious leaders? Discover what situations activate the critic more than others. Is your self-judgment stronger when you’re tired, stressed or not feeling well? Look for patterns and learn to identify his/her voice.
- Identify underlying feelings. When you experience a ‘critic attack’ stop and let yourself experience the feelings that may be underneath the judging voice. Perhaps you’re afraid of rejection or loss of some kind. Relax into the feeling, allowing fear, for example, to simply be present. Acknowledge this part of you that is afraid. The critic often quiets down when we tap into the deeper layers of feeling that reside at its core.
- Shift your attention. Move. Engage in a different activity. Focus on something that is absorbing.
- Take a stand. At times, being assertive will disarm the critic. Be firm, talk back and tell the inner critic to “Stop! Now!”
- When you do silence the critic’s commentary, direct your awareness to the voice of your soul, the calm, wise knowing within you. Ask your wisdom what it wants to express to you or, perhaps, questions like “What is right action for me now?” Or “What will help me get centered and clear again?”
- Reach out for support. Rather than imploding when you’re in the throes of self-judgment, and getting more deeply mired in negativity, contact a trusted friend. Talk to someone who is empathetic and can listen to you with loving care and attention. At times just speaking about your discomfort will defuse it.
- Cultivate your connection to Being. The more access you have to your true nature, the less hold the critic will have on you. Meditate, spend time in nature, read inspirational literature, or pick up the pen, guitar, or paintbrushes. What you feed, grows!
Be patient in this process of liberating yourself from the critic within. It took many years for this pattern to develop in your psyche and it will take time to disentangle from it. Let this be the imperfect process that it is with steps forward and some steps back. And try not to judge yourself for having a tenacious inner critic! We all have one; it goes with the territory of being human.