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Overcoming the Inner Critic

Sad Woman photo by Engin Akyurt

Do you feel like your inner critic is beating you up all the time?  You're not alone! We all need help overcoming the inner critic from time to time.  These days, my inner critic doesn't beat me up too much.  I've got some powerful strategies to share with you! 

What is this inner critic, or what some call the superego? The inner critic is that inner judge that tells us how to behave so that we can uphold social standards.  It develops when we're around 5 or 6 years old as we internalize messages mostly from our families (teachers and peers too) about what's acceptable and what's not.  The problem with the inner critic is that this judge deeply limits our true potential and natural expression.  For those with harsh or abusive families, that internal voice of criticism can be loud...and just as abusive and harsh.  It might say things like, "You're so stupid." or "You're so pathetic" or "You'll never have the life you want."  For others, perhaps your parents weren't critical but they conveyed messages about how unsafe the world is or messages about the evils of money or not getting "too big for your britches."  The inner critic may show up more as self doubt or a loss of confidence or energy any time you try to take on a new challenge. It occurs more as a whisper of "It's not okay to be too successful or take up space in this world."  

To deal with the critic takes patience and perseverance.  You will need to work on your overall mental health and creating a happy life.   But use the following strategies to specifically work with the inner critic and you will experience more inner peace and confidence.  

5 Strategies for Overcoming the Inner Critic

I had a mentor recently say about the inner critic, "There is a natural movement inside of us that wants to be free from the oppression of the inner critic. We need to find that movement and use it."  

So the following strategies are ways to begin overcoming the inner critic: 

One:   Identify the wording of the inner critic.    See how it sounds, how it makes you feel and what it says to you.  You might hear things like:  "You're so fat."  "You're so stupid."  "You don't have what it takes." "You'll never have love." “You always let people down.”   What you’re doing here is practicing observing with detached interest.  You need some distance from it to do this.  Sometimes it takes a while to notice that there's a voice that's being really mean to you.  For some of you, it's so automatic and been with you for so long, you hardly notice it.  It's just part of your identity.   Be patient but persistent in beginning to see it.   This will look like, "Oh. Whoa. I feel pretty bad about myself right now. What did I just say to myself?"  

Two:    See if you can identify if there's a person from your history behind these words.  Is it your father or your sister that nun from 2nd grade or an abusive boyfriend?   Sometimes it doesn't belong to any particular person, but instead what we imagine (or have experienced) a group of people thinks about us.  Start to picture them so that you have someone to talk back to.  This is important because we need to see it as a separate entity from our true self.  

Three:   Externalize the inner critic by naming it.   Meaning, see the critic as something outside of your true self, your essence/spirit/soul/higher self.  This is really important.  This critic is not you.  It's the "lid" on top of you that holds you back or down.  So, some people give a name their inner critic.  It might be a  character, a name of a family member, something funny (use of humor helps!) or just called "my critic."   The most important thing is to get distance from it.

You can also try imagining that your inner critic wants to drive your car.  Only your true self should be the driver.  You need to put the critic in the passenger seat and sometimes in the trunk! Imagine turning up the radio and the music is only sounds of positive affirmations and messages of inspiration and hope.  

Four:   As you observe what you hear from the inner critic and who the inner critic might sound like,  see what natural movement starts to happen inside of you.  Part of you might start to feel deflated or feel that what the inner critic is saying is true.  You may not have quite enough distance/separateness from it yet.   Be patient.  Keep seeing if you can feel something else inside your body in reaction to the critic.  It might start as a facial expression of defiance or irritation.   You might feel a need to wiggle or ball up your fist.  You want to see if you can feel a force, the essence of your internal strength pushing back against this inner critic.  See what it's like to do some squats or push against a wall (engage your arms and legs) as you hear this voice.  Punch the air or make big movements.  Let forceful words bubble up like "F**k off" or "Go away" or "No way! Not today!" or “You don’t get to talk to me like that.” 

For me, what often works better than a forceful stance is a compassionate smile for myself as I shake my head and say “No dear. Don’t say that to yourself.”  And some days, I flat out laugh at the critic.  This stance actually gives me the most power when I can be this “chill" but no nonsense about it.  

Five:  Once you find some words that seem to quiet the inner critic,  you need to develop your ability to give yourself a pep talk.  Be your own inner coach.  Engage in positive self talk.  What I most say to myself is:  "You're doing the best you can."   Sometimes it's "All is well."  or  "You got this. What's the worse that can happen?"  Find whatever words you need to hear and say them to yourself!!  Say it in the mirror.  Write it on post-its.  Keep practicing.  It eventually sinks in as the truth.  

Final notes, the inner critic can be sneaky and persistent, especially if you're doing something outside your comfort zone.    Over time, it gets easier overcoming the inner critic and you will feel less weighed down by those harsh criticisms.   And then your true self can really shine! 

Summarizing Overcoming the Inner Critic 

  • Identify what exactly it's saying to you
  • Where does it come from? 
  • Name the critic and see it as something outside of your true self 
  • Use the body to help you feel an inner strength to stand up to it 
  • Engage in  positive self talk and be your own inner coach
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