The Very Misunderstood Inner Critic
Everyone knows that voice, that mean inner voice called the inner critic. That voice that tells you that you’re not good enough, nothing works out for you, you’re all alone in the world, or any number of awful things. Often it feels like that voice is our voice, our own negative self-talk we’d do just about anything to get rid of. Other times, it feels like a separate voice, as if there is someone else in there that’s beating up on you in a pretty harsh and verbally abusive way.
The inner critic can also be a voice that sounds encouraging but keeps pushing and reminding you that you’re not there yet, you’re not doing it right, you should feel guilty or ashamed, and by all means just try harder. Somewhere in mid-life we can feel beat down by this voice. Exhausted. We reach a point somewhere in the 40’s or 50’s where one of two things happen: that voice either wakes us up and takes on on a journey of finding the truth inside (because we can’t stand it anymore!) OR folks just believe it, give in, and accept that life sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Either way, everyone’s self-esteem takes a huge hit after living with the inner critic for so long, and it takes its toll on our dreams, happiness, fulfillment, and especially the ability to connect deeply with others. The worse your inner critic, chances are the more of yourself you hide, and it feels like there’s someone screaming inside that no one can reach.
There is a way to transcend the inner critic and actually hear the voice of your inner wisdom, but it begins by really taking some time to understand our inner abuser, why it’s there, and why we create it. Once you can see behind the curtain to what it really is, step-by-step it begins to grow quieter. The inner critic, once understood, may never go away 100%, but it becomes much easier to handle and it can’t seem to latch on to your consciousness and pull you under.
When those voices come up, the more aware you are about what’s happening the less it has a grip. Most importantly–with awareness, the negative voice is no longer is a factor in your decisions or running your life from the shadows.
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The Birth of the Inner Critic
In my own awakening journey, and also working with clients on theirs, I’ve seen this over and over through the years. I am always looking for the subconscious patterns and perceptions that are running the show, and in order to see those clearly, it’s vital to go back into one’s childhood because that’s where 98% of them were formed.
In the mind of a child, perceptions of the world get created, most of them far from accurate. When people never stop to question them, those childish perceptions run us for life. It’s in childhood that we create our particular inner critic, and there are very good reasons why. Even though the inner critic doesn’t make sense in our lives today, back then, it served a very important purpose.
As I have carefully examined my own self-talk AND the self-talk of my clients, I notice that it matches nearly 100% with the voice of the childhood Mother, Father, a combination of both–or even our INTERPRETATION of our Mother and Father’s voice. In other words, it’s either what you were directly told, or what you deduced from your environment as to the meaning you assigned to your parent’s words or actions.
You see, as a child, it feels MUCH more dangerous and unsafe to make your parents wrong about anything. A child can’t deal with the thought that their caregivers aren’t godlike creatures who know simply everything about everything. A child is completely dependent on their parents for not only all survival needs, but how to speak, walk, eat, what to think, how to behave, and what to believe. A child comes into the world as a sponge, absorbing everything around them as truth because that is the way they feel secure.
You can’t make your parents wrong as a child. Your little brain just won’t let you. It feels much safer to make YOURSELF wrong because THAT is something you have control over. When your parents fight, when they’re displeased with you, when finances are slim, basically when there’s ANY kind of stress in the house, the child attempts to self-regulate because most children believe that they are the SOURCE of the stress.
And the Inner Critic Begins…
All the mish-mosh of things we’ve picked up in our environment, even from the time we’re in the womb, is telling us what to do, not to do, what to be and what not to be. The reason it’s there is because we’re subconsciously trying our hardest to not get “thrown out of the tribe.”
But it’s even more than that. Being loved and seen, nurtured, having a feeling of belonging, and feeling secure are all basic human needs, and that inner critic has been formed in an attempt to not only be cared for but get your needs met. It’s constantly picking up information from the environment and assimilating it into the identity of the inner critic, who has now been internalized so deeply that we think that’s who we are, and at a very young age, we lose our connection to our own truth because survival becomes a much higher priority.
In short, you’ve created your inner critic as a way to survive, be loved, and to get your needs met. That’s WHY it’s there. That’s its purpose. It’s not created because you suck, YOU created it in an attempt to NOT suck.
Of course, now we have to realize that we have literally created a monster that, through the years, has not only stopped being productive in any way but now is actually screwing things up. Because we’ve spent so many years unknowingly putting the inner critic in the role of master, we’ve all got a version of Stockholm Syndrome, where we are now agreeing with it to such a degree, that being free of it feels incredibly scary. It’s been created to help regulate us, so if we get rid of it, we feel like we don’t even know how to orient in the world without it. We don’t know who we’ll be. And, there’s still a deep belief that without the inner critic, you’ll behave badly, no one will love you, and you’ll be all alone in the world.
What was created to help you has now completely enslaved you, and got you believing that you need it to get along in the world. The It’s become SO normal that self-hatred, feeling that “life sucks,” working crappy jobs for crappy pay, having relationships with virtually no intimacy, and walking around feeling alone has become the cultural status-quo. We criticize ourselves AND each other constantly. Talking about the asshole husband, naggy wife, oppressive boss, how stressed out you are, how things don’t work out and you can’t have what you want all are the topic of a lot of conversations.
It’s actually become totally weird to feel connected to your value, live in alignment with who you really are, have close relationships with people that see you totally AND encourage your highest good, and to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. The inner critics have taken over the world! Now, let’s explore how to unravel our actual self from what has now become a totally false identity. The most important starting point in this journey is to consider that this voice is NOT true. Consider that even though you believe it, there IS something that you haven’t seen yet, something you don’t know yet and that you are willing to open up and connect to your truth.
It sounds simple enough, right? Just be WILLING. But, in my coaching practice, I have worked with people who say they want to be free of it, but don’t want anything in their life to change. I point out that their life could have very well been built according to the inner critic’s wishes, and if they hear their inner wisdom as the dominant voice, some of the things: jobs, relationships, etc. may change, as they’re not aligned with your truth. I tell people that if you’re too attached to the “way it is” then you’ll favor your false identity over the truth, which of course means your life will never feel very good. This takes us back here:
“We reach a point somewhere in the 40’s or 50’s where one of two things happen: that voice either wakes us up and takes on on a journey of finding the truth inside (because we can’t stand it anymore!) OR folks just believe it, give in, and accept that life sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
For all of us, our soul, our truth, is in there, gasping for air. That’s why the longing for freedom is there. The desire to be something, to have meaning and fulfillment. Your dreams of having close relationships, feeling happy, having adventures, having a job or business you love, it’s always there wanting our attention–your own truth. For most people to truly kill the voice of truth, you need a pretty intense addition.
You can be addicted to drugs, alcohol, TV, social media, shopping, sex, food, or have a FEW addictions that squash the voice of the dream. It’s too painful to have a longing when you really don’t believe you can have it. So every time the truth says, “Heyyyyy, I want to LIVE!” now that you’re overly identified with the critic, you just open a bag of potato chips and say, “Well this is it. Stop dreaming that crap and get real. This is as good as it gets. So let’s just try to hang on and make the best of it.” And you just keep eating the chips. In front of the TV. Or whatever your flavor of distraction is.
I have a quote that I put out years ago, and it applies here perfectly:
“Transformation happens when the known future becomes 10X scarier than the unknown future.”
This is what I look for in a client because I know when someone reaches that point of realizing that if they’re in the same place a year from now and it feels like the worst outcome ever, then they’re open to change. Otherwise, they’re going to hang onto that inner critic for dear life.
Most people that come to me are in the place of “I don’t know what the hell is out there, but it’s GOT to be better than this!” I celebrate that kind of moment because it’s a portal that can lead to huge awakenings. That’s most definitely what got me started on my awakening journey–life just became intolerant, and I knew I’d probably jump off a bridge if nothing changed.
Why Hating Your Inner Critic Doesn’t Work
There’s hardly been a phrase uttered with more truth than “What you resist persists.” Here’s why: everything that’s showing up in your life and in your consciousness has value. So, when it’s resisted it doesn’t leave it just gets stronger, louder, and more painful. I’ve been in the personal development for years, and there’s a not-so-subtle way across the board on how to deal with an inner critic. I’ve looked carefully and even though most say to listen to it, it’s usually followed by some version of saying “Thank you for sharing” to it or something of the like. I heard someone say that when this voice comes up to give it love but then put it in the corner, out of the way. That’s NOT really giving it love.
Dealing with your inner critic goes beyond listening to the crap it’s saying, or trying to “conquer” it. Honestly, nearly everything that your inner critic says is just a flat out lie. But, when those voices come up it also doesn’t work to ignore them… so what DO you do? How do you quiet that voice?
I happened upon this by accident, because I wasn’t actually trying to quiet the voice of my inner critic. However, the voice DID get quiet because I wasn’t focused on the inner critic, I was focused on awakening. When you begin to see the actual truth about yourself (which feels good, by the way), the inner critic cannot keep being the loudest voice in the room. Now, in hindsight, and through my work with others, I can see a more direct path to get to this truth, and it’s my intention to help you see this for yourself without having as confusing of a time as I did getting there.
Think of the inner critic as one of those blow-up things that you see in front of stores, that’s big, has arms, and is waving all over the place. If you wanted to get rid of that, you wouldn’t talk to it or try to reason with it, and it certainly won’t fit in a corner. You’ve had to turn off the machine that’s blowing air into it. You’d have to look beyond it and go straight to the creator because THAT’S the part of you that needs love, truth, and compassion. See, the inner critic is not the problem, the inner critic is nothing more than a symptom of a confused child that’s just trying to get their needs met and survive in the world.
Of course, the child (being a CHILD) lacks the big picture, and cannot see the long-term consequences of that creation, and certainly doesn’t have the life experience, maturity, or even know-how on what it truly means to be themselves because it’s likely that no one ever showed them. The inner critic is a monster, created by a child, to help them. The critic is a protector, a regulator, a guard at the gate keeping out what hurts.
Now, later in life, that inner critic who we once created to help us out, has now become our warden and our abuser, and keeping us “safe” by keeping us locked in unconscious patterns and loops, keeping our truth shoved WAY down, keeping us from knowing ourselves well, expressing our gifts and talents, and keeping us feeling alone because it’s become hard to truly connect with anyone on a real and honest level.
One of the most simple and profoundly useful exercises is to consciously re-parent our inner child. We all have this experience of an inner child because, in many ways, our development froze during that time. We never grew up from the scared, “I gotta be someone different so mom and dad love me” child consciousness. We have to bring our adult wisdom to that child, talk to him or her, listen, and validate feelings. Your inner child needs adult you to fill in the missing pieces that it didn’t get all those years ago.
Making this a regular practice will give you more bang for your buck than just about anything you can do. Most of us need to spend a lot of quality time with that child, the same way you’d do any child that’s frightened and confused. Just giving your attention, saying truthful, loving statements, will more and more become natural thoughts and feelings in your body. When you go back to that child, giving it the nurturing they need, your life timeline begins to update automatically–meaning that the once confused child now feels loved and seen–and begins to integrate into your life.
It’s important to mention that sitting with your inner child for 5 minutes 1 or 2 times probably won’t make a dent. But 5 minutes EVERY day, maybe in the morning or the evening, directing those loving statements to that little part of you feels better and is much more productive than trying to do battle with the inner critic or trying to convince yourself of things you don’t actually believe with positive thinking or affirmations. It’s a different feel to sit with your inner child and consciously practice re-parenting, or even just offering the parenting supplement that child needs. That little extra attention, validation, and guidance. By YOU. Their adult self. It’s an extremely healing practice and a much more loving way to heal that inner critic voice.
Relating to ourselves with love and truth is what heals. There’s too much talk out there about slaying our demons, stopping self-sabotage, quitting our excuses, etc. These approaches rarely have a lasting effect, because they’re all rooted in resistance, in getting rid of something or shaming ourselves into behaving better. That’s the inner critic at work. Your inner critic should never be in charge of your personal development, that’s a job for your inner wisdom. Your inner wisdom is an accepting, curious, and objective voice, that intuitively nudges, perhaps coming up even now as you’re reading this, reminding you that all you truly need is love.
This article is brought to you by your inner wisdom, reminding you that you are whole, you have value, and that you are loved, needed, important, and a vital part of the world around you. Remember that, and allow yourself to be guided by it as you spend time with your delightful, curious, and joyful inner child.
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