One of my favourite things to write about these days is that crazy-ass “inner critic” voice that lives inside our heads. You know, the one that says you’re not “enough” of anything? You’re not smart enough, attractive enough, cool enough, savvy enough, creative enough, organized enough, etc.
Why do I like to write about this demon, you ask?
Because I’ve been beaten senseless by mine, and because our inner critics are like the elephants in the living room. Everyone has one, they are usually huge and take up a lot of space, yet no one talks about them! It’s like we’ve all collectively decided that the critic in our heads is just something we have to live with.
These voices have become our shameful little secrets.
The truth is we are viciously cruel to ourselves. Listen to the things your critic says and now imagine yourself saying the same things to a family member or good friend. It would never happen. We would never talk to someone else in the same way.
Psychologists say that our inner critic voice was birthed in childhood by well-meaning parents and a broader society. As we were taught what it was to be appropriate, accepted, and successful, an inner voice developed. The purpose was to spare us shame and pain by warning us when we were about to do something that would cause us to be ostracized or rejected.
It’s ironic that something that was developed to help us avoid shame has led to a profound experience of the same. Shame is the one constant that Brené Brown found in her years of research into human behaviour. This feeling of being flawed or of not being enough is a universal feeling. One that wields a destructive power, keeping us from realizing our true power and potential.
Which leads me to the other reason I like to throw the spotlight on the critic. I’ve found out there is a reprieve from this destructive self-talk. And I want people who may feel a slave to it (as I was for years) to know there is another way.
Utilizing my early experiences as an amateur private detective (hello, Harriet the Spy!), I’ve learned a few things about this voice.
One. The critical voice in our heads is NOT the voice of the truth. It is ego, it is fear, and it is protection, but it is not the truth.
Two. We can turn down the volume. I really wish we could just pull the plug on the whole damn thing, but because this voice is linked to fear, which resides in the primitive part of our brain, I think we’re stuck with it.
Three. The critic is not the only voice we have access to. It just seems like it because it’s always shouting. Ever wonder why it shouts? Because it’s drowning out another voice, one that is much calmer and quieter. One that communicates in a whisper.
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” – Rumi
So how do we “tune in” to a whispery voice? Especially on the days when the other one is so loud and relentless and exhausting?
I want to share a strategy that I’ve been playing with lately when the critic is ruling the roost. It was introduced to me by my friend, and gifted Stress and Resilience Coach, Michelle MacLean.
Think about a situation that you might be struggling with. It could be helpful to focus on an issue that you know your critic has vehement opinions about. Maybe it’s an unresolved quandry at work or an ongoing issue in your family. Maybe it’s a concern about how to move forward with something.
Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. At the top of the left side, write the words “Inner Critic” and at the top of the right side, write the words “Inner Friend” (or Inner Champion, Inner Divine, My Higher Self, My Soul, or whatever wording resonates with you).
Now, from the perspective of your inner critic, start writing in that left hand column. Write down what your critic thinks about the situation at hand. Most likely, this list will flow easily and quickly because the critic is usually quite accessible and available (you won’t catch him/her out on a date or off on an adventure – nope!).
Now take a deep breath. Actually take four or five.
And then focus on hearing the other voice inside you. I promise you, it is there. It’s just usually drowned out by the critical shouting. You may have to keenly listen or listen in a different way. Tell yourself this is your only work right now – to try and hear what else is on offer. And let your pen move across the page.
The very first time I did this exercise, I cried. The difference between the two columns was unbelievable and powerful. The critic’s voice was in short, sharp point form; bullets full of mocking questions and statements with the flavour of “you’re destined to be a failure” and ” Can’t do anything right??”
￼In contrast, my inner “friend” voice wrote in letter form, beginning with Dear Renée. It was gentle and warm and supportive all the way through, encouraging me, reminding me of my real essence, and telling me to take my time. It ended with: “You are strong and brave. There is no rush. You will figure this out. You are so loved.”
So the question is: If we have equal access to both voices, why do we continue to pay so much attention to the voice of the critic? Why do we allow that voice to monopolize the airwaves? Especially when there is another one available that is so beautiful and nurturing?
I think the answer might have something to do with self-love and feeling we are worthy of those kind and loving statements. And so maybe we need to edge our way into this new way of thinking slowly and with great care.
In the same way that you would want to choose the most supportive teacher and the most positive role model for a child, take the time to find that respectful, nurturing voice inside your own head.
And then take the time to focus there. Keep the dial tuned to the new station. Believe you deserve this more loving and appreciative monologue. And then watch what happens.
ps. Here’s a fun thing to take some of the power and punch out of the critic voice. Name it something highly degrading or just plain silly. A friend of mine calls his Dame Mildred Sourpuss. This definitely takes away its authority as a “truth teller.” I have also been known to yell “shut up!” at mine. And, as long as I remember not to do this in the grocery store, all is well. I highly recommend this. It definitely stops the critic in its tracks and will likely make you laugh!