Befriend Yourself: Tame your inner critic

Are you your own best friend… or your own worst enemy? Think about it for a minute before you answer. Take your inner temperature. Is it warm and comfortable in there — or are you greeted by thoughts that are critical or demanding? Most of us reserve our most impossible demands and disparaging comments for ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can change your inner landscape so that it supports you in all that you do. So that no matter what is happening on the outside, your inner world feels safe and supportive, like a good friend.

Befriending the Inner Critic

One of the most important steps to take to improve your inner landscape is to develop a better relationship with your inner critic. Everyone I’ve met has one: an inner voice that is constantly critical, demanding, even punishing at times. Generally, the more trauma and abuse one has suffered, the louder and nastier their inner critic.

The first thing to know about this inner voice is that it is not the voice of ‘Truth’ with a capital ‘T’. You do not have to take it seriously. Chances are, its message is repetitive and unhelpful. If you can, take a few steps back, figuratively, and just notice the messages coming from this critical place. Do they sound familiar? They often have aspects of our parents and other figures of authority in our lives. But they are harsher versions of these, and they seem to know exactly how to exploit the place where we feel most vulnerable.

Our inner critics can call us things like ugly, fat, lazy, stupid. They will jump on our latest accomplishments before we’ve even had a chance to rest on our laurels and inform us about the many ways we could have done it better. They will drag us again and again through any particularly embarrassing or foolish thing we’ve done, making us suffer through it repeatedly. Our critic can be found in the times we tell ourselves, “How can I have been such an idiot?” or various versions of this sentiment.

You can gain some distance from your inner critic when you start to see it a little apart from yourself, when you learn to take a step back from it and observe it from a distance. (Focusers and meditators both know how to find their ‘observer’ self.) From a safe distance, you can also start to wonder what the purpose of your inner critic might be. Why on earth would we want to have this voice in our heads that constantly berates us?

I believe the critic is formed when we’re children trying to make sense of the world. If our parents or other authority figures are critical towards us, we may naturally see ourselves as flawed. It is easier to do this than to be consciously aware of deep flaws in the people we rely on for our most basic physical and emotional needs. This explains why the intensity of the inner critic is greater in a more abusive or neglectful atmosphere.

The critic may also be partly the voice of our conscience, what Freud would call our superego, the part that warns us when we’re doing something morally wrong. In other words, the message the inner critic is delivering may, at times, contain the seeds of something useful. But this often gets lost because of the harsh way the message gets delivered.

Another way to gain some distance from your inner critic is to stand back and dispassionately try to figure out what this voice is wanting. Behind the attack, there may be fear that you are not being all you can be in this life. There may be a desire to protect you, to motivate you, to encourage you to make some sort of change.

If you can relate to any of this, you might start to listen to your inner critic differently. Turn the volume down a little and try to read between the lines. Be as curious and detached as possible. Watch for patterns. Think of your critic as a cranky but important person in your life — someone you need to learn to keep a safe distance from, but also someone with whom having a better relationship would be of great benefit to your inner equilibrium.

Your questions and comments are always welcome!!

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