Making Peace with the Inner Critic
I know you know what I mean when I speak of the inner critic. You know that voice that judges, criticizes and demeans your efforts or lack thereof. We all have many aspects, defenses, parts of us if you will, that have found a narrative of self criticism and shame.
You're not alone in feeling it's sharpness and narrow window of acceptance. This painful part is in all of us. In fact, we have many. We can't help it really, our brains, the old and the new, are wired to pay close attention to 'what's wrong', to all the possible ways in which you might find rejection, abandonment, vulnerability and danger of any kind. We are evolutionarily wired to notice the slightest hint of threat to our safety. Our older brains provide the filters that create the alarms and the
younger brain expounds on and proposes alternate versions, running the imagined fatalistic scenarios into loops that become habitual and ritualistic in patterns.
Many hundreds of thousands of years before we were born, these brain strategies and programs were intrinsically necessary to our survival, creating the structures that would serve us and protect us as we matured and thrived. These processes, however, continue pretty much unchecked by time and the societies we have created. True danger continues to exists, especially for the marginalized, the underprivileged, as well as within our own family histories where abandonment, abuse, neglect abound. It's no wonder these brain schemas continue to be relevant and part of our inner processes.
What's interesting is that these systems, parts of us whose purpose is to alert us, prepare and protect us, become in themselves traumatic and perpetuate the cycle of abuse/threat it is so poignantly trying to avoid. You might say it's a flaw in the design and it could be, but its effectiveness and promptness in getting you to pay attention would indicate otherwise. These systems start early, we inherit the narrative, the tone, the voice from those around us early on, and in no time it becomes internalized without question (remember you were a child), automatic in the way it responds to any sign of threat, fear, doubt. Can you recall a time when these processes, these messages didn't exist?
So now that you can get an idea of how deeply ingrained, the evolutionary benefit of these strategies and their core purpose (no matter how faulty its method), you can begin to create a space where they can be heard without you owning them or they owning you. This is the tricky part, there's so much that's invested in these protective devices, they've seen us through so many difficult and challenging times, to release ourselves from their guidance and protection feels vulnerable at best.
Change takes time and practice. We can't expect to be able to recognize these internal processes overnight, never mind being able to understand and offering them acceptance as we let go of their control in our life. Begin by being able to notice when that internal inner critic narrative starts. Notice what's happening in your life that activates this defensive part. Just observe it. Notice how you feel about its message, the way it speaks to you, what part of you wants to flee from it, or fight it, which part is scared, angry or wants to hide it and mostly which part of you believes this narrative. Now just observe all of it. Resist the urge to engage, to fight back or take it on, observe and create a bit of distance from it. Is there any part of you that understands this inner critic narrative, can you imagine seeing how these efforts are protective in nature, can you imagine speaking to this part of you, this narrative?
I invite you to begin this process of confronting the inner critic, of creating awareness of this pattern and to scale this protective assault down with understanding and compassion. As soon as you notice yourself being negative, judgmental, critical of some aspect of yourself, I invite you to observe it. Stop and slow down, take 10, 20 deep breathes, deep and slow, feel yourself notice all the ways in which your body feels activated, the emotions and the narrative that accompanies this moment. Observe, resist the urge to explain, to judge, to run away or take it on, observe with a bit of a distance. Now imagine asking this part of you that speaks to you this way, what it's trying to do? what it's afraid of and how you can help? Notice all that comes up, keep slowing down and asking, notice what you sense and feel. Give yourself and this critical part of you time to notice the different ways in which it can help you, alert you, protect you without the criticism. Notice what you sense. Keep meeting these parts of you each time they come up. Keep offering them space and understanding, notice if the smallest wave of compassion for it begins to build, follow it, give it space. With practice you can begin to make peace with your inner critic until it becomes the inner friend.