6 Tips to Soften Your Inner Critic & Be Kinder to Yourself
How many times have you caught yourself saying something to yourself that you would NEVER, EVER say to anyone else?
The fact that you can answer that question with some form of “Yes, I’ve done that before” is an important aspect of this conversation. In fact, it is the key to the whole conversation.
The moment we first become aware of this aspect of ourselves and take that initial step back to know we are separate from that voice — we make an important distinction that says, “I see you; I hear you; but, I am not you.”
We all have this part of ourselves. It can be called different things, but I find the term Inner Critic to be the most accurate and helpful because it seems to say exactly what it is — a critic that lives inside us.
The Inner Critic can appear big, bullish, and domineering or even nagging, nit-picking and endlessly questioning. It is the voice that undermines your accomplishments, casts doubt, and says you are not enough. No matter how it shows up, one thing is always the same — it leaves you with the task of managing the difficult emotions of shame, inadequacy, and guilt.
Here are 6 tips to soften your Inner Critic and be kinder to yourself in the process:
1. Recognize this voice within you.
Just notice it exists. That alone is powerful. When we identify this voice, we begin immediately to take away its power. Just by recognizing, we create an immediate gap, a distance between it and our authentic voice.
It’s as if we are saying, “Aha, I see you. You are other than me, but I still see you.”
2. Thanks for sharing!
One of the greatest aspects of a Mindfulness practice is that we get better and better at simply observing what is. We don’t have to “do” anything about it, we just have to observe. We can say things like, “Thanks for Sharing” to our inner critic. It is in this moment that we go one step beyond the mere recognition of the Inner Critic and begin to provide ourselves a layer of acceptance of it. By accepting, we are no longing pushing against and fighting. We are surrendering to the voice’s inevitable presence in that moment, and in so doing, lessening its power.
3. Ask yourself if what you are hearing is really accurate.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches us to ask ourselves this important question when we hear our inner critic: “Is this statement accurate?”
Most of the time it isn’t. This is important because then we can choose a better way to reframe the critic’s statement and make it into one that is more beneficial and kinder. As an example, my Inner Critic may say:
“You don’t deserve to go to that party. You are not ‘whatever-fill-in-the-blank’ enough to be invited there.” I may then ask myself, “Really? Is that true?” I can then reframe that statement to something like, “I was invited to this party. I can show up exactly as I am, and I am good enough just as I am.”
4. Don’t believe your every thought.
Did you know that the average person has 50,000 thoughts per day? How can every thought we have from “Oh, I need to stop by the grocery store” to “Look at that squirrel run across the road” be relevant and important?
The answer is, they aren’t. We simply cannot allow ourselves to hang our every hat on our every thought. Not everything that comes out of us is gospel. And certainly, our Inner Critic’s thoughts are not that important.
Think of them on par with “There goes another squirrel!”
5. Notice any “I am” statements. Reframe to “I feel” statements.
When our Inner Critic says that we are not enough in some form or fashion, it is in that moment that we have merged a temporary, transitive feeling into a core belief of who we are as a person. We’ve made a temporary feeling into a permanent trait of who we are. This is not so! This is a classic ninja Inner Critic move, and we will not have it! Again, by noticing this we immediately disarm our Inner Critic.
Our inner critic thrives on shame. Two great examples of contemporary authors writing about this are Kristin Neff and Brene Brown, and I recommend them to anyone who is unfamiliar with their work. When talking about this, Brown says that shame needs secrecy, silence and judgment to grow. If you give it empathy it cannot survive. We are being asked each time we hear our inner critic to give ourselves compassion. Yep, that’s right. This little critter of a voice actually has an incredible gift to give us — self-love.
The next time you hear that Inner Critic, I invite you to think of any one of these tips, but especially the last one. In fact, you can pass through each of the five before it if you can go immediately there. Sometimes it will be easier said than done, and that’s ok. That’s why we have a range of options for different occasions. And just remember, you would never talk to your friend that way (or kiss your mother with that mouth), so why should you to yourself? After all, you are your mother’s child and someone else’s best friend.