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Why are we so hard on ourselves?
It’s not just you. It’s present in people who exude confidence, too. We all have an internal voice that chastises us for not being good enough at certain things and lets us know when we have screwed something up. The question is, how much do you let it run the show?
Although I have done a lot of work on taming my own Inner Critic over the years, it remains an ongoing process. It still pops up when I am feeling unsure of myself when I make myself vulnerable when I don’t reach the level of success I’d hoped for in a particular endeavor. After all these years, it still hasn’t moved out. We’ve been talking in my coaching consultation group about why this is. I mean really, what is the deal?! Well, here’s my understanding of it, which I hope will offer some helpful insight.
In one sense, our inner critic is trying to help us. It wants to push us to do our best, and to prevent the potential negative impacts of making mistakes. It thinks it’s being motivational. In reality, however, that is rarely the case, because it goes about it in a way that tears us down instead of giving us a boost.
Most often, that internal voice reinforces our fears of inadequacy and results in us feeling bad about ourselves. It generally takes a fair amount of self-reflection to recognize just how ubiquitous this self-judgment can be. Often, we compound its effects by comparing ourselves to others – so easy to do in our critical and competitive culture – and our self-esteem takes the hit. Ironically, despite its best intentions, this inner voice tends to reduce our confidence and therefore diminishes the way we show up and makes us less effective.
So what are we to do?
First, we must learn to recognize it so we can begin to catch it while it’s in the act of delivering a critical remark. One way to do this is by practicing mindfulness to increase present awareness. In the quiet stillness of sitting with yourself, it is easier to hear the thoughts bubbling up and to simply notice them without embracing them as true. It doesn’t take long! They are often right there near the surface, causing you stress. Once you can notice them during a few minutes of sitting still, you become more skilled at noticing them when you’re going about your day.
Okay, great, you may be thinking. I am more aware of my critical self-judgments. So what? They still feel like crap.
But what if you offered your Inner Critic a little compassion and asked what it wants from you? Is it worried about you and wants to protect you from others’ criticism? Is it angry that you aren’t perfect because somewhere along the line it internalized the belief that you should be? Does it need to be comforted because it’s feeling embarrassed by something?
I suspect it is honestly trying to help in some way. It just has a rough way about it. It is not skillful in communicating with kindness and compassion. You have to teach it by treating it in such a manner. You already know how to treat your friends with compassion. You don’t tell them they are stupid when they make a mistake, do you? (if you do, please call me right away for an emergency coaching session!) So try being gentle with your Inner Critic, too. Even the Grinch needs to be loved.
You can also work to set some boundaries that can limit its impact on your psyche. One way to do this is to recognize where you developed this internal voice. Does it ever sound like someone else in your life? A relative or instructor? Peers who reinforced your self-doubt to defend their own? Can you hear those echoes and call your Critic on it? “Hmm, I see who you’re channeling there. Nice try! I know you feel bad, but you are not helping. We’re going to get through this. I am enough.”
Your approach may depend on your relationship with your inner voice, and different strategies may be more effective at different times. You can’t know until you try employing them. For most of us, harsh self-judgment is a deeply ingrained habit that isn’t easily shaken. It may help to get some support.
While it takes effort, mitigating the effects of your Inner Critic can yield great benefits. Among other things, it can help boost your confidence, make you more effective in relationships, and open you up to new experiences in life. Because you really are perfectly imperfect. Just like me.
Wishing you deep self-compassion and self-acceptance on this journey called life.
Feel free to ask any questions or share your ideas in the comment section below. Alternately, I’d really appreciate for you to share this content on your social media platform if you found it useful so that others can benefit from it too. If you have any doubts or want a personal clarification, send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. For more inspiration, fun, and smiles, follow me on Instagram