This blog is about our inner critic, and gives some suggestions on how we can use this for a positive approach to self-compassion.
Being aware of the critic
We all know what it’s like to hear the sound of our inner critic, giving us a hard time or warning us off danger. Recognising your inner critic is a key part to developing self-compassion, as it allows us to quickly spot what is happening before we are caught up in believing everything it’s saying.
Our inner critic is not just a voice, it’s a feeling. We might feel anxious, or angry, or feel shame when it is wagging its sanctimonious finger at us. Many of us see this internal messenger as a separate person, reminding us of our constant failings, when in fact we have created it, fed it, clothed it, and named it, all by ourselves! But that’s a good thing, because if we have done this all by ourselves, then we have the ability to reshape it.
Role of the inner critic
So why do we create an inner critic? It isn’t to make life hard for ourselves, even though that’s what we end up doing. No, our inner critic is our friend. Not the most well behaved friend I grant you, but a friend nevertheless! Why? Because we create it to protect ourselves from harm. The world is a scary place, and we are always on the alert to danger. On top of that we have been brought up in a competitive culture, where we are told that only the best are successful in life, and we must strive for that top spot.
So we create our inner critic and teach it to let us know when we have failed to step up to the mark of perfection. We think this will motivate us to try harder next time, but alas, this too is a failure. Instead we stop trying and make excuses for why we cannot make the effort, else we end up with more criticism.
How can we overcome this stalemate?
Firstly, we can recognise that our inner critic is really our friend. Give it a hug, say thank you for looking our for you all the time. There’s no point in criticising the critic as you will only end up going in circles! Remember, we are in full control, so we can thank it for its advice, but let it know we are going to go ahead anyway. You may still feel scared or disappointed with yourself, but that doesn’t stop you from trying again.
In the long term however, we can teach our inner critic to take on a healthier role. Instead of being the voice of doom, we can ask it to be the voice of reason.
Welcoming the inner mentor
One definition of a mentor is “an experienced and trusted advisor”. This is what we really wanted our inner critic to be, but we didn’t know how to create it. Each and every day we gather knowledge of our experiences, and store them away so we can consider how best to respond in the future. How did that go last time? What is the right thing to do in this situation? Is it safe? We can use this experience gathering to allow our inner mentor to emerge.
So how do we do that? Firstly, we need to notice when our inner critic is shouting loudly and being hard on us. We can thank it for raising the issue, then using compassion, we can explain that the harsh criticism isn’t going to help. Invite the critic to consider the facts. Do the facts really support the catastrophic viewpoint? What would be a more useful and caring approach to the situation?
Work with your inner self to come up with options to change a situation or change your attitude to the situation. Make sure that some of the actions include being kind to yourself, and recognising that you are trying your hardest in circumstances that are often out of your control. The more you stop and speak compassionately with your inner critic, the more the inner mentor will emerge.
This doesn’t mean your emerging inner mentor isn’t sometimes firm with you, or doesn’t point out that you have made a decision that wasn’t helpful. We must all take full responsibility for our actions, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry or sad, when the facts support it. Where we go wrong is when we take a small mistake and feed it until it becomes a gigantic monster that hounds us day and night. Ruminating is of no use to anyone. By acknowledging mistakes, then focusing on the solution, you stop rewarding your inner critic, and start paying attention to your inner mentor.
About the author: Lisa Jones has a professional background in human resource leadership. Now self-employed she is studying for a MAPP at Bucks New University where she intends to use her knowledge and learning to continue researching, primarily on the topic of social issues and meaningful living. She intends to undertake a PhD within the research area of positive social psychology.
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