March 13, 2024

Nurturing the Inner Critic: 7 Things to Do When it Shows Up.


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“Your inner critic is simply a part of you that needs more self-love.” ~ Amy Leigh Mercree


“Oh, but you’re not doing enough!”

“Look at other people, how far they’ve come! And you are still here!”

“You have no idea of what you’re doing with your life, do you?”

“Let it be. You won’t be able to do it.”

And that’s how it shows up for so many of us—this inner critic. It comes out of nowhere and starts rattling off all these ways in which you’re not good enough, not doing enough, not at par with others, and how you’ll never be able to match up to anyone or anything!

It’s irritating, annoying, frustrating, and at its worst, it becomes debilitating. It makes you feel that whatever you’ve done or achieved till now is a total waste.

What is it’s problem? Why can’t it keep quiet and mind its own business?

Well, this is its business—to criticise, judge, and label so that it can push us into some sort of action mode so that we can do something more or become better in some way, and it does that because that’s all that it knows.

It’s that troubled little child inside of us that grew up listening to and believing that its not good enough in so many ways and used that criticism to fuel itself. What started off as an external input from all these outside voices, soon became the child’s own, as it unknowingly and sometimes knowingly internalised each one of those.

It did that because that was the only way it could figure out how to fit in, do what needs to be done so that it could feel seen, accepted, and loved.

Since we as kids didn’t have the mature filters to determine what needs to be tuned out or paid attention to, we internalised everything. To add to it, the very nature of our mind is to put things on autopilot. The information that comes to us repeatedly or strongly will become a part of a deeper programming in our subconscious and it will keep replaying that till the time we actively change the input.

Indeed, while growing up, we didn’t have our filters of logic and reasoning present. But as adults, it does become our duty to ourselves to keep a check on how much we want to feed this inner critic that shows up in various ways.

Sometimes, it shows up as the perfectionist who wants everything to be perfect and won’t let you breathe till the job is done. At other times, it will show up as this high-achieving voice that will keep reminding you that your accomplishments are not at par according to some standard or another. There will be days when it will behave like an unforgiving trainer, forcing you to work more and more till it squeezes the last bit of energy out of you. At other times, it will be the victim who is lost, confused, helpless, and just can’t get around to doing anything.

Even though the intention of this so-called critic is to protect us from any shame or embarrassment that it thinks we may experience as a result of not being at par or good enough, what it doesn’t take into account at times is reality.

Of course, there are going to be plenty of things that we may not be good at or need to improve upon. But there will also be things that we are already good at and have made progress in. Sadly, this critic doesn’t take into account all this. Its only task is to reduce everything we’ve managed to do for ourselves, others, and in our lives to nothing, and that is not true.

That’s why we need to balance this voice with another voice that is also a part of us—our own inner voice. It’s this faint little voice that tries to come up every now and then to reason out with the inner critic that what it’s saying is not true. But because we’ve never really focussed on it and allowed it to grow, we don’t really listen to what it has to offer.

This inner voice is really the nurturer within us that understands and knows what we need. It can deliver the same message in a softer, kinder, more compassionate way because it knows that this is what we needed in the first place but didn’t get. It knows that even this inner critic is the way it is because it’s that part of us that grew up without kindness and compassion. If only it had received these messages to become “better” a little differently, it wouldn’t have been so harsh and scared of being unaccepted.

This inner nurturer knows that it’s not really about shutting the critic down or running away from it. Rather, turning toward it, having a gentle conversation, and steering it toward being grounded in understanding, compassion, and motivation. All this critic needs is love and a little reassurance that you are enough. After all, it’s trying to protect you in the ways it knows best.

“People become discouraged when they listen to their inner critic. Whatever that voice is saying, articulate a response, drawing from the part of you that feels strong and confident. Be your own cheerleader.” ~ Lauren Mackler

So the next time when this inner critic shows up for you and tries to point out all these thousand things that are wrong with you, here’s what you can do:

1. Acknowledge its presence and let it run

You can’t stop your thoughts from running. This automatic chatter is bound to come up at some point or another. The presence of these thoughts isn’t the problem. It’s what we do once they show up! We usually get involved in this chatter and try to argue, debate, or verify what our inner critic is saying.

Yes, it is important to evaluate our own thoughts, but if the chatter is frequent and intense, then we simply get sucked into a whirlpool of negative self-talk and it completely tanks our energy and spirit. Therefore, it’s important to learn to simply allow it to come up and run. Let your inner critic say whatever it wants to without getting involved in it. Let the chatter run in the background.

2. Commit to valuable action

Once you’ve noticed and acknowledged that your inner critic has shown up, commit yourself to an action in the present moment. Make a conscious effort to focus on the activity that you’re doing while letting your inner critic babble away!

3. Practice grounding

At times, this inner critic can show up with great force. That’ why it’s important for us to learn to ground ourselves by focussing on our breathing, connecting with nature, journaling, or listening to music while giving it some time to fade away. The idea is to notice and gently detach rather than engage with it.

4. Evaluate and reframe

After creating some distance, it is important to check if what the critic is saying is really true or not. Is the comparison necessary? Have there been no achievements? Have you really not progressed? Remember, your thoughts are not always true and your mind isn’t always right!

5. Ask yourself, “Whose voice is it?”

Is this critic really your voice or an internalised version of some other voice like your parents, some boss, or society? Do you believe everything they say? Does this kind of self-critical talk help you in any way? Then, talk to yourself the way you would want a loved one to talk to you. Be present to your emotions; show some compassion to yourself. After all, that’s what you missed all this while, right?

6. Map your progress

At the end of the day or week, make sure to check in with yourself and appreciate yourself for all the small and big things you’ve been able to do! The more you acknowledge and appreciate, the more you will strengthen your inner voice that knows how to nurture you.

7. Give yourself a break

Give yourself a break and cut yourself some slack if you mess up or don’t get something right. You’re a human being at the end of the day!

Perhaps, if the same or similar messages about our growth and betterment were given to us in a kinder, compassionate way, we wouldn’t have learnt to be so hard on ourselves. But once we’ve recognised that this voice isn’t doing us any good nor making things any better, it’s important to let it go and allow a kinder, nurturing voice filled with love and respect for ourselves to take over.

In the longer run, it doesn’t matter whose voice we internalised. What matters is: which voice do we want to listen to now that we have the power to choose?

So what would it be for you? The voice of criticism, judgement, and comparison? Or the one filled with acceptance, love, and compassion?

After all, that’s what you’ve been looking for. Why not start giving it to yourself?

“If you gave your inner genius as much credence as your inner critic, you would be light years ahead of where you now stand.” ~ Alan Cohen


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