The Inner Critic, ooooh she gets frustrating. She’s something we all have, and it’s true that for some of us her voice is more powerful. Sometimes we let her degrading words totally consume us, paralyzed by the fear and shame she instills, while other times it seems we can more easily ignore her nagging grip.
Let’s first talk about why your Inner Critic exists and then how to regain your power from her.
Why is She Here? The Purpose of the Inner Critic:
To let go of the Inner Critic, it’s first important to understand why she exists.
She is the birth product of fear and shame.
Shame gets a bad rap. Shame is an emotion we’ve all felt, and one that we usually try to push away. In fact, many self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse, eating disorders and self-injury are acted out in an effort to quiet the shaming Inner Critic.
If we are to take a mindful approach to shame and look at it more with a curiosity and less through a lens of judgment, then we can wonder about the function of shame. All emotions, after all, serve a purpose.
Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, describes shame’s evolutionary necessity. Linehan writes that shame’s purpose is to protect us from getting kicked out of our community. Back in primitive times our lives literally depended on our tribe. Doing something others disapproved of could have gotten us dismissed from the group and resulted in our death- we would have been eaten by a lion or some other wild animal. You can also think about The Walking Dead and the many zombie apocalypse movies out there- we see in these shows/films that without the help of a group, it is not likely one will last long.
Today, though we’ve evolved socially, our primitive survival instincts are just as alive within us. Today getting kicked out of our tribe won’t get us eaten by a lion, but it could have comparable emotional consequences, just as painful in their intensity.
Shame protects us against rejection. Only thing is, we can’t reach our full potential when shame and the Inner Critic keep us small.
So the Inner Critic is a part of us and we are made up of many parts. When we ignore parts of ourselves, they oftentimes become more powerful, their energy subconsciously radiating out of us, influencing our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. To actually engage with the Inner Critic is an exercise that can empower you to take your power back from her. Let’s do it!
How to Approach the Inner Critic and Take Your Power Back:
Remember that rhyme, “Shame, shame, shame, I know your name?” Well, that’s what we’re going to do! Let’s name your Inner Critic. Give her the attention she wants for a bit. You can give her a name that reflects your impression of her or maybe a humorous name to make her feel less intimidating (I encourage you not to think too hard).
For today’s example, let’s name her Felicia.
Practice mindful observation of her:
When you notice your personal Felicia is around, vocalize it, “Oh yeah, Felicia is here.” “Oh, hi Felicia, oh yeah you do seem to come around when I’m just chillin’, relaxing after a long day.”
We don’t have to take the Inner Critic so seriously either, and if we give her a little attention, she might just quiet down.
- Take some time to sit with your Inner Critic. Notice where she shows up in your body. Practice deep breathing and think about sending your breath to the place(s) where she is so she can relax a little.
- How old does Felicia think you are anyway? Ask her.
- What is it that Felicia is scared will happen if you don’t hear her? Is she willing to be a little quieter?
- Ask Felicia if you can have some space from her and if not, why not? What is it that she is fearful of?
- If you can get some space, observe how you feel about your Inner Critic. How do you feel about her?
- In knowing that her shaming voice exists out of fear, can you empathize with her a bit? Can you give her less power?
Get to know your other parts:
Just as we have the Inner Critic part of us, we also have our Nurturing part, our Compassionate part, our Empathetic part, our Courageous part, our Wise part, and others. Engage these other parts of you, maybe give them names as well. It can be helpful to call on these parts by name when your Inner Critic is too loud.
“I see you, Felicia. I know you want my attention, but I’m peaceful right now. BYE, Felicia!”
**The tips provided for engaging the Inner Critic have been adapted from the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz, the founder of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach.
*Important: though written to be of support and service, the information provided in this and other articles on this site do not replace a relationship with a licensed mental health professional. Please reach out if you are interested in working with me or would like referrals for therapists near you. In the case of a psychiatric emergency please call 9-1-1.