(Reposted with Permission from our column in Frazer Times)
We all have one — an inner voice that expresses criticism, frustration or disapproval about our actions. It might sound like, “you should,” “why didn’t
you?” “What’s wrong with you?,” or “why can’t you get it together?” The actual self-talk is different for each of us, as is its frequency or intensity.
It is a cultural norm to believe that criticism or guilt-induced comments will motivate behavior Over time, these comments internalize and become our “inner critic,” the persistent negative self-talk that keeps us stuck. Unfortunately, this type of communication is anxiety-provoking and shaming, which is the opposite of motivation. When we feel shame, we feel that something about us makes us so flawed that we don’t deserve to be in connection with other people. Shame disconnects us from others. The point is that shame and self-criticism keep us from doing the things we need to take care of ourselves and ultimately find comfort, connection and motivation.
Awareness is the first step to recognizing and letting go of your inner critic. Many of us don’t even realize its presence. Catch yourself the next time you’re aware of feeling anxious, distracted or numb. Identify the voice of the inner critic. Identify the situation that may have triggered the inner critic. What are your genuine feelings about this situation? Remember, the inner critic helps you to feel in control. So ask yourself, “What am I afraid of? What would it mean if that happened? And what would that mean?” Allow yourself space to dig deeper and find your most vulnerable feelings about the situation. This is what the inner critic is protecting you from feeling. Do you really need all that protection?
The inner critic’s self-talk tends to fall into one of two categories, “bad self” and
“weakness.” Bad self is shame-based. Those who struggle with it might feel
flawed, inferior, inadequate, deserving of punishment or incompetent. The weak self is based on fear and anxiety. Those who fight it might feel dependent on others, unable to support themselves, submissive, vulnerable; worried about loss of control, isolated, deprived or abandoned. These beliefs are neither useful nor helpful. They are generally destructive.
Practice listening for clues to these beliefs by paying attention to the self-talk of your inner critic. Go on, challenge those beliefs!
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.