Thoughts on mindfulness, relationships, and growth

Tame Your Inner Critic

From a really young age I can remember hearing a voice inside my head that kept me in line. Told me what I was doing wrong, questioned me, and commented on every-single-thing I did – usually negatively.

These voices come from a parent, coach, teacher, neighbor, grandparent. Someone from our childhood that was older and in an authority role.

The criticism could have been overt like shouting at us from the sidelines or subtle and manipulative like passive aggressive behavior or guilt.

Whatever form, we can all agree…it doesn’t feel good to have this negative energy coming towards us.

Why can’t we move past these voices and memories from our childhood? If they happened so long ago, why do they stick to us and have such a large impact on our current viewpoint?

The problem is

We know we have critical voice(s), but we don’t know much about them. We haven’t spent much time doing more than listening to, arguing against, and blindly believing it.

The following exercise often helps to un-blend from the tight grip of the critic(s) inside and then unveil the inner mentor that we usually look for externally.

Sorting the (Critical) Laundry

1 – Knock, knock…whose there?!

First, recognize there is a voice inside.

Instead of getting steamrolled by this voice, take a day (you probably wont need much more than a few minutes) and listen inside your head. Notice what you are saying to yourself as you are rushing out the door late for an appointment. Or feeling unprepared for a meeting at work.

Simply —-> Notice and Listen

Collect some data on WHAT you are actually saying to yourself pretty much ALL. DAY. LONG.

Be a field naturalist and watch your self-talk. Be as curious as possible about all the ways you speak negatively towards yourself.

2 – Sort the laundry

Sort your data into these 7 different types of critics.

🔸The Perfectionist – very high standards for behavior and performance. When these are not met, this critic attacks you with the message, “you aren’t good enough”.

🔸The Taskmaster – tries to get you to work hard to be successful. Attempts to motivate you by calling you lazy or incompetent. Wants you to keep a bunch of plates spinning. Usually in a battle with a procrastinator inside.

🔸The Underminer – wants you to keep from taking risks that might end in failure. Often says you are worthless or inadequate and wants to prevent you from being big or visible. Very concerned with rejection and judgment from others.

🔸The Destroyer – deeply shaming voice that attacks your fundamental self-worth. Very harmful part that turns anger and aggression towards yourself (because being outwardly angry could enrage a controlling figure in your life.) Can often show up as self-harm behaviors and thoughts.

🔸The Inner Controller – wants to control impulsive behavior such as drinking, eating, anything resembling addictive type behavior. Shames you if you participate in this behavior.

🔸The Guilt Tripper – attacks you for a certain action you took that could be harmful to another person. A constant reminder that you can never be forgiven and are unacceptable.

🔸The Molder – tries to get you to fit into societal or familial norms. Often feels like wearing a straight jacket. This part has a huge rule book that determines what you should do at every moment.

Who are YOUR top 2 critics?

3 – Listen to your Critic

This is about listening in a different way. Listen to not only what it naturally yammers on about, but also

What is behind what is being said

This is one of the subtle forms of communication. ALL of us say things and actually mean *more* than what we say. This is called the meta message.

You are going to be a meta message detective when it comes to your critic.

What is this critic really saying right now?

What does it want me to know despite how it delivers the message?

Why is it talking right now?

What just happened that made the critic decide to chime in with its words of wisdom?

A great way to start getting to know your critic is to make it a character, like in a play. Name it. Give it a face and clothes to wear. Give it an age.

Personalize it so you can differentiate yourself from it. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

The most effective work we can begin to do with our busy minds, and constantly scrolling ticker tape of thoughts, is to UNBLEND from them. Naming them is a great tool for this!

Keep your ears curious! You read that right!

If you want to help this inner critic get the job done without flattening you in the process, you can hear it with a curious ear. Differentiating from the critic is a way to hear it. Naming it and creating it as a separate part of you is a way to help you hear it with interest.

4 – Interview your Critic

This can take a minute to get the hang of. We feel like we know our critics pretty well, but what we actually know is how they make us feel. Just reading the descriptions above can give you a bit more insight into what these parts think they are doing for us by being incessantly harsh and nit picky. (Hint…they think they are being helpful)

Curiosity is a most helpful tool for this part of the exercise.

I like to think about the Foo Fighters front man and drummer for Nirvana – Dave Grohl. (I naturally like to think of Dave Grohl because he is easy on the eyes, but this isn’t what I am talking about exactly!)

I think about how I know a ton of stuff about the Foo Fighters. I think I know A LOT about Dave Grohl too. But…if I were given the chance to interview said front man, I would get really curious and ask a bunch of questions I don’t think I already know.

This is how I want to approach my critics.

With openness and curiosity.

Because…guess what?

Your critic is not as powerful as you think

Really you say? You must not know MY critic.

Here’s the deal.

Our critics came from adults. Authority figures. But we internalized them when we were kids. So…many of our inner critics are kid parts too! As a 6 year old, I am not going to be able to create an internal world where I am comforted and nurtured and encouraged automatically. I can learn to be like that to myself IF someone teaches me how to do that. But what mostly sticks out in our human brain is what is threatening.

BAM! A critic is born!

Our little kid inner critics are really little kid bullies. These parts just believed the only way to protect us was to try and shape us into being whoever our families, teams, classrooms wanted us to be so we wouldn’t be excommunicated and left alone to fend for ourselves. As kids we want love from our family and peer groups. These critics are often created to make sure we get that love.

You could journal this interview with the critic (don’t roll your eyes at me!! Journaling kicks ass dude!) or do a short self-guided meditation type thingy. Whatever works. Just spend some time your critic.

How old is your critic?

Whose voice did it borrow?

What’s it concerned will happen if it doesn’t criticize you?

What’s it trying to accomplish even if the way it goes about it isn’t working?

WHEW!! That’s enough for now! Just be a Curious Critic Detective for a while and gather some intel on your inner taskmaster or perfectionist, etc.

And stay tuned for Part 2 – Unveiling your inner champion!

Shifting out of “stuck”

When a client shares “I just don’t see how this could ever be different”, I get excited because I know personally that we are never truly stuck in hard place in our lives. There is always a way to shift and alter our present position.

Early on in my career I had a strong *belief* that people could change, but I was also searching for personal evidence that this was a Truth. Internal Family Systems and Mindfulness work allowed me the actual, physical and emotional experience of finally feeling “okay” in my own skin. It was an experiential understanding. Not one that came from my mind wanting things to change, but from an internal knowledge that I could unhook from the pain and hurt that I once experienced as Mt Everest.

That first glimpse, and subsequent felt-sense experiences of emotional freedom have given me the faith that I hold when I hear those words from clients.

After I work with someone, and we begin to see their personal patterns, and begin to understand why they do the things they do to get through life, I often hear, “I don’t think I have ever thought about it, or seen my life, in this way.” And I want to release the environmentally friendly balloons from the ceiling and celebrate. Helping people broaden their perspective and learn to work *with* their thoughts, emotions and behaviors is why I do this work.

When the light bulb goes off for someone, and they are still for a moment and their mind is quiet and they are simply present with themselves, that is why I love this work. Because from there, the options for self-care are limitless. When your mindset expands, and you can access your creativity – there really is no reason you cannot have the life you want.

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