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Releasing Fear: Managing Your Inner Critic

Until around the time I started Baggage Reclaim back in the autumn of 2005, the voice in my head was my mother’s or me repeating what my mother used to say or what I thought she would say in that circumstance. Now the voice in my head is my own but has increasingly become reflective of my values – I’ve had to work on the inner critic part of me and practice more patience and compassion. Work and learning to drive and failing my test a few times shone a light on my perfectionist issues. I’ve been learning how not to ride my arse like Zorro anymore which has certainly proved to be interesting.

Over the years, particularly as I’ve gotten immersed in work and parenthood, I’ve discovered that I really need to learn how to listen to myself. I’d been using the affirmation“I trust my higher self. I listen with love to my inner voice. I release all that is unlike the action of love.” from the book You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay. I’ll be honest with you, I never used to be an affirmation person, but I have first-hand experience of how transformative these have been especially with tinnitus, jaw pain, and calming me in stressful situations. The above affirmation is my absolute favourite and repeating it focuses my mind. Affirmations are self-soothing and also like prayers to the self and mini-meditations. I remember this affirmation by heart, and I say it regularly. One day I really listened carefully to what I was saying (ironic I know), and it clicked:

My higher self is the me that goes beyond the anxiety, the chitter chatter, the bullshit even. Our true self lies beyond the representative at the front door that we seem to give a lot of authority and space to. Our higher self transcends ego and bullshit. It’s in a way, trusting that there’s something bigger than what can be the clutter in our head and in our actions, which most of the time isn’t representative of the true state of things.

Trusting our inner critic, fear that may have no basis (if it did it wouldn’t be fear it would be knowledge), trusting the mask that we present to people when we’re passive/passive aggressive and not being authentic, is not going to help us be ourselves and fulfil our purpose.

Listening with love means not being impatient, critical, judgmental, mocking, punishing etc. Listen with a loving and compassionate ear. Give it time, give it space because the more we listen to ourselves with the type of love and compassion we’ve often had a pattern of throwing at others while denying ourselves, there isn’t very much room for fear and the nastiness that can come from the inner critic. Also, we all have our inner children that we need to take care of – as adults, we have to step in and parent ourselves, both ‘big us’ and ‘little us’. It is not the job of parents, partners and friends and this helps us to take full responsibility for ourselves. We also have an opportunity to do things differently to how our own parents or caregivers might have done. I would like to think that when given an actual child to take care of, we would not treat ourselves in the way that we allow our inner critic, and yes ourselves to treat us.

Releasing what isn’t like the action of loving you comes from practising sitting with our feelings and listening. It’s to positively rationalise, to reassure, to remind ourselves of who we really are, to inject some reality.

Releasing fear is releasing what isn’t like the action of loving you.

 

During the BR years, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to reader experiences, observing people and of course navigating my own life. I have put time and effort into taking care of my health, and in doing things like kinesiology, acupuncture, seeing a chiropractor and an osteopath, I’ve been taught to listen to my body and mind. Even after all of this time, it is still a habit I need to be vigilant with because like most people, I get caught up in the hamster wheel of life. I get swept up in work and the kids, and I keep going “I’ll get to it” and then bam, my body goes “OK fine, screw you. I’ll give you so much pain you have to listen!” I get overloaded because I don’t always have time (well I do, but I don’t use it) to listen. “I’ll get to it! I’ll get to it!” and sometimes giving me a hard time for not keeping up with what I’ve overloaded myself with and then I’m forced to listen.

 

Inner critics that need some management exist in various guises:

 

Being very critical. “Come on stupido!” “For f*cks sake {insert your name} – can’t you get anything right?”

Being impatient. “You should’ve done that already! What are you? Dumb!”

Doubting. “I don’t think you can do that!”

Smothering. “You’re not able for that. It’ll be too much for you.” “You can’t do this/that.”

Smugness. *Sigh* “I told you so.”

Telling you that if you don’t do something that something ‘bad’ is going to happen. “If you say NO, you’re going to end up alone again/lose them as a friend.” “You won’t be a very nice person if you don’t do that.” “Everybody will be talking about you.”

Judging you. “You screwed up. If you’d been _____ and done _________ then you’d still be together” after you’ve just been screwed over or “Ugly” after a date doesn’t work out. “You’re never going to be able to get another job – you’re a failure.”

Withholding. “You don’t deserve it, don’t do it”, “You don’t deserve it, sabotage it before they find out”, and “You’ll be good enough when you do/are _____________”

Belittling you. “You’re getting on this person’s nerves.” “You’re making a tit of yourself”, “You’re talking shit”.

Guilting you for having boundaries / Rebelling. Your inner child has a tantrum when you hear or experience NO because it reminds you of when you were a child. Now your critic doesn’t want you to say NO because you associate it with being ‘denied’ things that you want, so you say YES. If you say NO, your inner critic steps in and starts making out like you’re evil and unloving.

Associating worth and approval with ‘YES’. “If you don’t do it, you’re going to fail to meet expectations and you know what that means……” Never mind that there may actually be no expectations, it may be perfectly fine to say NO, or it just is OK because it’s your boundaries, or that the expectations may be completely inappropriate and will detract from your sense of self.

Punishing you. “You really screwed up, remember that?”, “You don’t deserve to let this go yet. Remember what you did {insert list of shaming thoughts}. You’ve really let yourself down.” “You’re not ready to ___________ yet. You’ll screw it up. When you’ve _________, it’ll be time.”

Doom predictor. “This is going to go wrong” “This is going to fail” or “You’re screwing this up” “You’ve failed.” I did my driving test twice when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I made a mistake in each one which wasn’t actually an automatic fail, but I unravelled and decided that I had failed. I was trying to drive ‘perfectly’, so it was all or nothing.

It Doesn’t Matter Mentality. “It doesn’t matter if you work hard / try / whatever, you won’t be good enough / you won’t achieve this / you won’t be capable.

The Pessimist. Part doom predictor, part it doesn’t matter, part elements of punishing you, this has a big chunk of blame in there. “It’s all your fault”, and it’s basically making it sound like whatever it is is a permanent judgement. “You’ll never be able to get past this.”

Suppressing you. “You can’t do that”, “You can’t be that”, “You need to put them first”, “Your needs don’t matter”, “You don’t deserve a shot/it/that”, “Is that really the type of person you ‘should’ be?”, “People like you should……”

Your inner critic may be saying “I” instead of “You”.

You must put you in charge of you and start challenging that voice. When I first started listening to my own thoughts, I was shocked at how harsh I could be. My acupuncturist got me to wear an elastic band on my wrist – my arm was very sore. I got the message. My mind was sore.

You do not have to agree with the voice that it is and actually, if it’s not yours and a you that reflects your true identity, you need to sack the voice and squeeze them out by talking to you and correcting it. Do it often enough and the voice goes away or at least knows its place (in the background), and your inner critic becomes a gentler voice that reflects you.

Your gut empowers you whereas your inner critic deflates and belittles you and takes you into trouble, especially sucking you into repeating patterns of behaviour and thinking that don’t work.

 

The single most useful thing I did when I embarked on my self-esteem building and pattern breaking journey was slow down, interrupt/interject, correct/challenge/reassure.

Recognising when the chit-chat starts is crucial. I say this as someone who wouldn’t realise how I may have spent an entire day beating me up. You’re most likely to have the inner critic speaking up when you’re faced with a challenge, feeling down, or even feeling confident. It wants to keep down or shoot you down. You’ll have an idea of when the critic is showing up like a pain in the arse guest – you’re likely to have drifted mentally. You think of something, you chase the thought, you chase the feelings that come up and start feeding them, and the inner critic takes their cue.

Differentiate between you and your inner critic. You’re not one and the same. You have an inner child that’s part of you that you need to nurture and raise when it overshadows who you are as a person. You don’t think “I am a child” or “The child is me.” The inner critic isn’t you either. It’s someone who shows up at inopportune moments, a bit like when that survey person shows up on my doorstep just as I’m in the middle of something or trying to do something very important. Think of other critics in your life and you may start to see your inner critic for what it is: that person who always has a counter view, who thinks it’s their duty to tell you every awful thing that you can come across, that quotes you crap that they read in the newspaper or passes on annoying stories about how someone who knows someone who did the same thing and it was a disaster. They say “You’re not going out in that are you?” They still keep reminding you of that time when you were ten, and you did something that was silly, but you know, you were ten? They don’t celebrate what you are, or what you do, or your successes – they remind you that you’re a f*ck up. They remind you about ‘that time’, and sometimes they want to remind you about ‘that time and that time and that time.’ They want to see you unhappy. They want to upset you. Now if this is who you are, that’s one thing, but if it’s not, it’s important to differentiate between you and that pain in the arse person within.

Welcome it. “Hello, old friend….” or “I knew you’d say that”. Right now your inner critic thinks 1) they’re in charge and 2) you’re scared of them. Mentally cowering and taking on a child-to-adult role in your own mind will make your inner critic very powerful and have you being ‘naive’ in that way that we can be as children when we take everything an adult or so-called person of authority says as gospel.

Offer up positive, counter-evidence. Offer up support for you. “Actually, I can ___________” “Yeah I’ve got stuff wrong but who hasn’t? I’m doing _______ and ________ and ___________ to change my habits and help me to have a more successful outcome next time. I don’t have to get it right or perfect each time but the more I try, the closer I get”.

I trust that _________ will still ___________if I can’t/don’t_____________.
I trust that I will be respected by ____________ when I stand my ground.

Stick to firm and respectful. If you get medieval in your own mind, you may find that either your inner critic has a tantrum and comes at you full force if you’re in an anxious situation or that you end up feeling guilty, possibly because it’s how you would feel if you spoke up to that certain someone or people that have ‘inspired’ the voice of your inner critic.

“No, actually, I’m ___________” or “That’s totally incorrect. The reason why that happened was ________ and ________ and ___________ not because I wasn’t good enough” or “I know you’re feeling scared (or whatever) but it’s OK. I know ___________ or it’ll be OK.” “Maybe I won’t be able to do it, but I won’t know unless I try. It would be a bigger mistake not to try.”

Don’t let your inner critic overstay its welcome. Inner critics get a lot of airtime because there is this assumption that they’re entitled to it. They’re treated as if they don’t have to respect the house rules – your boundaries. You don’t let people treat you without love, care, trust, and respect. It’s not that you cannot experience criticism ever but someone hanging around to rag on you and sink your self-esteem has got to learn when to zip it. This means you can have a thought including doubt, but you don’t have to chase it and add on lots of stuff. “What if I eff it up?………This is going to go wrong…..I can see where this is headed… I should stick to what I know…What was I thinking?….I’m going to be a laughing stock…. Ugh, remember how stupid I felt over that science project?….And the prom? And John? And that fudged promotion?…. Ugh, mum will so be all over me if I get this wrong…”

All of this came from the thought “What if I eff it up?” It’s just a question though not a prophecy of the outcome – you can answer it, you can set it straight. The thought is transformed into so much more because ‘Doubting Thomas’ has popped in and you’ve responded to the presence of your inner critic by offering it up more reasons and evidence.

Don’t project negative perceptions of you onto people and take it as fact. When you’re convinced that the other person thinks that you’re “stupid”, “ugly”, “talking rubbish”, “making a mess of things” – that’s what’s coming from you, and you can change that with interjecting and countering the inner critic’s perception of things with reality.

When I think of some of the reasons why certain critics haven’t wanted me to succeed at something, it’s because they want the same thing and if I go and do it, then it changes their own position or ‘makes’ them look a certain way. Or they might want to keep you in a certain position that’s beneficial to them – you being passive for instance may suit their own agenda. When you recognise this, you see it for what it is, you remind yourself of the truth, and refocus on the task at hand and trying to support you.

Find the ‘key’ or ‘code’ that works. Part of changing your habits is learning how to rein negative thoughts in instead of chasing after them into a spiral that pulls you down. You have to learn how to talk and keep talking to you until you find the way that works. I think of my daughter Nia, and if she’s having a meltdown, me talking calmly to her is more beneficial than raising my voice, and I know that criticising her would certainly not help (it didn’t work on me!). I’ve found that talking calmly to myself (if I’m on my own), writing lists that oppose my critics view (i.e. planning against my doubts and fears) and yes, sometimes jerking me back into reality with “Snap out of it!” or “Bygones” as some of my keywords or phrases for jerking me out of negative thought spiral are very useful. Whenever I say the word “Bygones”, it’s my way of saying “Times up!” to the critic, and I have to refocus my thoughts.

Accept that your inner critic is there in some form but just take better charge of it. I have an outer critic (my mother) who I’ve used most of these techniques on. I find that if I step up, assert myself, counter with rationale and logic, I certainly feel better and often she backs off or backtracks. I learned something important as well which is that not all of this criticism comes from an ‘evil’ place (although some might) and some of it comes from lack of knowledge, which you can offer up. With your inner critic, it’s easier because it’s you not trying to control an external person’s opinion of you – it’s more making sure that the real you gets to stand up for his or herself.

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