How to Set Yourself Free
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Hello there… Please Meet Your Inner Critic
Do you have an Inner Critic? You know what I mean… it’s that harsh voice in your head that reminds you of your inadequacies, mistakes, and failures. It’s that voice that unfairly causes you to doubt yourself and question your self-worth. In fact, it’s that same voice that keeps you stuck and living with constant regret, shame, guilt, and fear.
I’m sure you have a general idea of what I mean as it’s typically that same voice that often begins chatting away at you without the need for an invitation…
Don’t bother trying because you will fail…
Your best will never be good enough…
Just forget it… you will never amount to anything…
Yes, I’m sure you are now familiar with the voice I’m talking about. It is after all the voice that just can’t resist stating its opinion when you face a challenge or do something risky or unfamiliar. Yes, it’s that voice that continues to bombard you with the worst insults you can imagine… Yes, that’s your Inner Critic.
You might now be wondering how in the world you invited this Inner Critic into your life??? Well, let’s just say that “invites” are not necessary because the Inner Critic is a part of you. In fact, it is “you”, or should I say the “darker side” of you; maybe kind of like your evil twin or the Darth Vader to your Luke Skywalker But just maybe we are being a little too harsh; just maybe your Inner Critic isn’t really a “bad guy”. Maybe he/she is just that member of your family that is continuously misunderstood by others. Just maybe, could that be a possibility?
Let me just put it out there: Your Inner Critic isn’t the manifestation of the Devil. In fact, your Inner Critic is more like a guardian that stands over you protecting you from pain. Now of course pain can come in many forms including getting hurt, failing miserably at something, making a terrible mistake, experiencing disappointment, etc. All of these things lead to some kind of pain. And your Inner Critic’s purpose is to protect you from experiencing that pain. In fact, his/her main objective in life is to keep you feeling comfortable for as long as possible.
Yes, I do realize you have all these goals that you would like to achieve, however, these goals all exist outside your comfort zone. That’s of course where uncertainty also exists, and this doesn’t sit well with your Inner Critic. He/she doesn’t appreciate when things are somewhat uncertain. In fact, your Inner Critic wants to avoid uncertainty at all costs. As such he/she will fill your mind with all these doubts in order deter you from experiencing potential pain when things go wrong. And yet, this is kind of a blessing in disguise because every time your Inner Critic reminds you of your inadequacies/limitations it helps you see potential pitfalls and problems in advance that you might not have considered. And as such, you are now in a prime position to prepare yourself for what’s to come.
Now, I can understand that your Inner Critic isn’t your typical smooth-talking Don Juan. In fact, your Inner Critic probably has absolutely no class at all when it comes to reminding you of all the pitfalls that could lead to pain. His/her words can be harsh and hurtful, and even their tone of voice can come across as quite brash and demeaning. But that’s just, unfortunately, your Inner Critic’s nature. He/she has no class and very little social etiquette. In fact, your Inner Critic will speak their mind without any filters. They will give it to you like it is, and maybe even package it up for you in the worst possible way. That’s their nature. He/she is like a wild untamed animal that makes you feel small and inadequate in its jungle.
But it certainly doesn’t have to be this way. You can actually subdue and tame this wild animal and have it working for you rather than against you. And that’s exactly what we will discuss within the remainder of this article.
The Evolution of Your Inner Critic
Your Inner Critic doesn’t have any power over you. You actually give him/her power through the daily decisions you make as well as through the perspectives you choose to adopt.
Your Inner Critic is initially a small baby you cradle in your arms. She is innocent and pure with no opinion to speak of. However, over time unhealed emotional wounds and unresolved insecurities give your Inner Critic the sustenance they need to grow up and form an opinion. She evolves from being your cradled baby to being your sergeant-at-arms.
All those emotional wounds and unresolved insecurities, of course, manifest from the unhelpful thoughts you have allowed yourself to dwell upon. These thoughts have sprouted limiting belief systems, and these limiting beliefs have subsequently shaped the attitude you bring to every situation. You have essentially made yourself most vulnerable, and your Inner Critic is now in a prime position to take advantage.
Now, of course, your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes don’t just arise from thin air. Well, okay maybe they sort of do. What I am trying to say is that your thoughts come from a source, and that source comes from the comparisons you make between yourself and other people.
Over the years you have been comparing yourself and your accomplishments — or lack of accomplishments — with other people. This today has now created doubt in your mind, and wherever there is doubt, that is when your Inner Critic steps in and puts you in your place.
Your Inner Critic will tell you all sorts of crazy and very believable stories about what you are and what you are not capable of doing or becoming. But it’s of course up to you to decide whether or not to believe them. However, making this decision isn’t always easy because we’re talking about things that you value most in life. In fact, we’re talking about things that you are afraid of losing or doing. There is, therefore, a lot of emotional energy invested here.
Every time you don’t meet your personal expectations and accomplish something you set out to do, you may have a tendency to blame yourself for the result. Well, “playing the blame game” has now woken up your Inner Critic. He too now wants to “play along” because he sees how much you are hurting as a result of not getting what you want. As such your Inner Critic is now committed to making sure that you don’t experience this pain ever again; and so he will tell you absolutely anything to ensure that you stay safe and away from pain.
Yes, those irrational emotional moments you experienced when you got hurt also play into your Inner Critic’s hands. These are painful moments where your Inner Critic simply won’t stand-by and watch you get hurt. No way will they allow any person or situation put you in that same position ever again. And for this very reason, your Inner Critic decides that if you’re not going to make more sensible decisions (on your own) to avoid pain, then they will do it for you. Now, of course, they don’t physically do it for you, but your Inner Critic does play a significant role in influencing the decisions you make; potentially to your own personal detriment.
Having gotten to know your Inner Critic, let’s now take a look at a four-step process to help you tame your Inner Critic to get your life back on track.
Taming Your Inner Critic
What follows is a four-step process you can use to help you tame your Inner Critic (critical voice). As you go through this process it’s important to remember that your Inner Critic isn’t the personification of evil. Your Inner Critic is in fact there to help and protect you from harm. However, the both of you must be on the same page for a mutually cohesive relationship to exist that serves the best interests of all parties.
Step 1: Awaken Your Curiosity
The first step towards taming your Inner Critic comes through awareness, and becoming aware takes some curiosity.
Many of us move through our days living very passively. We don’t typically pay attention to our thoughts. In fact, we rarely acknowledge the emotions we experience. Instead, we just react to the events and circumstances of our lives on auto-pilot without ever questioning the value or drawbacks of what we’re doing.
Living on auto-pilot in this way is easy because it means that we don’t necessarily need to make a plethora of decisions throughout the day. Yes, we may not appreciate our emotional experiences, however, it just takes a lot less effort to accept how things are (even if we don’t like them) then to make the effort to change them.
This is of course not the way to live if you want to begin taming your critical voice. You must instead become a little more curious of the thoughts you allow to dwell on your mind; curious of your emotional experiences, and curious of how you tend to talk to yourself when you face a challenge or some kind of uncertainty. However, recognizing these things isn’t always easy, especially when we’re used to operating on auto-pilot. But there is one thing you can look out for that will give you a strong indication that your Inner Critic is about to take charge. I’m of course referring to mood swings.
You know those moments when you’re feeling good, and then all of a sudden something happens (even something very minor) and immediately you feel angry, sad, afraid, frustrated, uncertain or anxious; and you have absolutely no idea why. These are the moments when your inner critic has suddenly invited themselves into your world. These are the moments when you must get curious and pay attention to that little voice inside your head. To do this, you can ask yourself the following set of questions:
What is my Inner Critic telling me?
What specifically is he saying about me?
When specifically does she say these things?
As a result, how do I tend to think about my current predicament?
What are some common themes and patterns I recognize?
How does all this affect my behavior?
What does all this say about me?
Where did this opinion come from?
Is this opinion based on fact or is it purely fiction?
Is it even relevant to think this way in this particular situation?
Where did I first learn to think this way?
What childhood memories or past experiences stand out?
Who specifically might have implanted these thoughts into my brain?
Does thinking in this way even make any logical sense?
These questions allow you to gain a thorough understanding of the types of thoughts you are allowing into your mind. With this understanding, you put yourself in a better position to see the progression of these thoughts and how they have come into being in relation to this particular situation you are now dealing with.
Step 2: Acknowledge Your Inner Critic
It’s easy at this point to just reject these thoughts and ignore your Inner Critic, however that may not be such a good idea. Often the more we resist something the bigger it tends to grow in our life. So if not to resist, then what is the answer? Well, the answer simply lies in acknowledging your Inner Critic’s opinion. In fact, it’s helpful to make a mental shift here and see your Inner Critic’s opinion as a set of concerns that he/she has for your well-being. In other words, your Inner Critic has a set of positive intentions. Yes, these intentions might be hurting you in the moment, but nevertheless, they come from a place of concern.
To get to the core of these positive intentions, it’s helpful to have a conversation with your Inner Critic. Ask him/her:
What are you trying to protect me from?
What is it that you don’t want me to feel or experience?
Why is this important for you?
Take a moment to listen and acknowledge the answers to these questions. Most importantly, pinpoint the positive intentions behind your Inner Critic’s words. You can then respond in-turn in the following way:
Thank you I appreciate that, and I understand your concerns for me…
How could I help alleviate your worries?
I feel that the best way moving forward would be…
This is of course all about having an intimate conversation with your Inner Critic. It’s about getting to the core of the positive intention behind their words, and then building on that to help pave the way forward.
As you partake within this conversation with your Inner Critic you will come to the realization that your Inner Critic is either completely misguided in their opinion, or they might actually be somewhat justified in their criticism/judgment of you in this situation. To help you gain more clarity in this area, ask yourself:
Are these word critical or constructive?
Are these words designed to help me improve or to pull me down?
Are these words based on facts or are they purely based on speculation and opinion?
Taking these words into account, where might I need to potentially make some changes?
How else could I do this without experiencing all this resistance?
It’s important to understand that your Inner Critic is human. She is a part of you after all; somewhat like a worried parent who wants the very best for their child, which means protecting you from harm. However, her opinion can get clouded and as a result, her positive intentions might be doing you more harm than good. It’s therefore up to you to separate fact from fiction and use that information to help you move forward in a better way.
Step 3: Give Thanks and Appreciation
It’s time to thank your Inner Critic for their concerns and desire to help you out in this situation. He shared his opinion with you, but it’s now time for you to consciously interrupt that thought process and put all your attention towards finding a solution that will help you move forward in a better way. Of course, if your Inner Critic was partly justified in his opinion, then you might want to use his words for guidance in this situation.
Working together with your Inner Critic to help you get a more desirable outcome, can be best. However, your Inner Critic can be stubborn and as a result, might not want to give you any leeway. In such scenarios you must lay down the law and stamp your foot on the ground by saying:
Those are nothing more but lies that my parents told me…
Stop it! I’m in control here, not you…
You see, your Inner Critic is like an untamed animal. If you let it walk all over you, it will. However, if you take charge of the situation and lay down the law, then your Inner Critic has no choice but to fall in line in accordance with its master’s request.
Step 4: Solutions to Help Tame Your Inner Critic
If after going through the first three steps of this process you are still having trouble taming your critical voice, then there are a few additional things you can do to help tame that Inner Critic. Let’s take a look at these scenarios in a little detail.
Attempt to Negotiate
If your Inner Critic is somewhat cooperative, then the best way to deal with them is to try and negotiate a win/win agreement. Ask your Inner Critic:
What do each of us want in this scenario?
How can we reach a mutual understanding about this?
How could we best help each other so that we can reach a win/win agreement?
This is all about reaching a mutual understanding that both of you can benefit from. Remember that your Inner Critic is primarily concerned for your safety. He/she doesn’t want you to experience pain. Therefore, if you can find a way to minimize this pain or prove to your Inner Critic why not going through with something will actually lead to even more long-term pain, then it’s very possible that your Inner Critic will concede a little during the negotiation process and allow you to have your way.
Now of course, negotiations sometimes go stale. If that happens you can fall back to one of the three suggestions below.
Change the Voice
Your Inner Critic will often come across as harsh, brash and vulgar. In fact, they can often come across as an authoritative figure with a big overwhelming voice that makes you feel somewhat small and insignificant.
Coming from a place of weakness can be difficult, especially during negotiations. However, there is something you can do that will put the power back into your hands. I’m of course referring to that “voice” that your Inner Critic uses to assert her authority over you. Yes, I actually mean changing the tone, pitch or volume of her voice. For instance, you can simply turn down the sound of this voice so that it is no longer overbearing. Alternatively, you can make the voice sounds sluggish, gentle, funny, fast, or high pitched.
See Your Inner Critic as a Bratty Child
If the “voice” adjustment thing doesn’t work too well for you, then consciously spend some time making adjustments to your Inner Critic’s persona. For instance, instead of seeing them as this overwhelming force with a strong presence, envision them instead as a bratty child who doesn’t know any better. How would you deal with a bratty child? You would discipline them, or maybe just ignore them by allowing them to cool off in a room by themselves.
The point here is not so much about envisioning your Inner Critic as a bratty child, but rather envisioning them as anything or anyone that you can comfortably assert your authority over. So for one person, it might be a bratty child, while for another person it could be a naughty puppy. Whatever it is for you doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are the one taking authority in this situation.
See Your Inner Critic as a Rival
It can also be helpful to spend a little time giving your Inner Critic a very specific personality with their own thoughts, motivations, perspectives, goals, and feelings.
This is helpful because it separates your Inner Critic from you. You are no longer them, and they are no longer you. You are both independent individuals with unique personalities and character traits. Moreover, you both have different goals, perspectives, feelings and agendas. And because you are no longer the same person, your Inner Critic should no longer have as much sway over you as he/she had before.
You can now very easily envision this Inner Critic as a rival of yours who only wants to further their own cause. They have their own agenda and that agenda is to sabotage your progress. They will do whatever it takes to criticize, judge and condemn you for the choices and decisions you make. Your objective in-turn is to discredit them and the arguments he/she makes. Remember, in this instance, they are not you, and you are not them. As such, they don’t have any power over you. They can say all they like, but that shouldn’t phase you. After all, they are out to get you, remember? They have their own agenda, and you have yours. Work with your agenda and acknowledge to yourself that you have the freedom to choose without the need to answer to anyone but yourself.
Subdue That Inner Critic
Within this final section, let’s take a look at some general suggestions and ideas that will help you tame your Inner Critic, or at the very least subdue the influence he/she has over you and over your choices, decisions, and actions. It’s important to note though that we are going to briefly explore some of the topics we touched upon a little earlier. This is done on purpose, as these are key areas that require a little more explanation.
Monitor Your Thoughts
Taming your Inner Critic of course always begins with awareness. Becoming aware of that voice inside your head initially takes some conscious effort and practice.
Typically for many of us this voice normally runs on autopilot. It’s like a television set running in the background while you’re cooking up a meal in the kitchen. It’s difficult to focus on what’s happening on television if you’re involved in another task. You must effectively stop what you’re doing and focus on watching television in order to fully understand what is happening on the show. The same process is required when it comes to becoming aware of your Inner Critic.
To become aware of that inner voice inside your head you must periodically throughout the day stop what you’re doing and turn your attention inwards. Take time to notice what he/she is saying and how this is impacting how you feel and subsequently the choices and decisions you make moving forward.
At times though, monitoring our thoughts throughout the day can be difficult. In such instances, it’s helpful to keep a journal.
Before going to bed, take out your journal and reflect back on all the events and circumstances of that day. Remind yourself of what happened, how you responded, and how that made you feel. Then take into account the thoughts that you allowed into your head that resulted in the emotions/feelings you ended up experiencing, and jot them down. And of course, pay particular attention to any mood swings you might have experienced.
Writing down your thoughts in this way allows you to become more aware of your habitual tendencies; and when you become aware, you can then begin making positive changes to tame your Inner Critic.
Use Your Imagination
Now that you are aware of that critical voice inside your head, it’s time to use a little imagination.
Instead of seeing your Inner Critic as a part of you, see him/her as being “apart” from you. What I mean is to see them as another person or alien or animal, or whatever creature you would like to imagine. Yes, I do mean giving them a body, face, personality and a name. In fact, you might find it of value to doodle a portrait of them on paper. Doodle their ears, mouth, teeth, nose, hair, and all the other parts.
Giving them physical form in this way will help you to separate yourself from their influence. In fact, the more humorous you make this portrait the less seriously you are likely to take their critical verbal insults.
Go Against the Advice of Your Inner Critic
Being aware of your Inner Critic and having successfully separated yourself from his/her influence over you through your doodles, it’s now time to go against the norm and do the opposite of what your Inner Critic suggest. In fact, why not play a game with your Inner Critic for a few days where everything they say you will actually do the opposite. So for example, if they tell you not to try because you are likely to fail, then try you must. If they then tell you that you should quit because you’re just not good enough to succeed, then do the opposite and keep persisting through any adversity you face. And then if they tell you that you got lucky, then tell him/her that luck had nothing to do with it.
It’s important not to get caught up in the language your Inner Critic uses. Don’t respond emotionally to their words. Instead, use rational thinking to make decisions. Moreover, use transformative language to help keep yourself focused on what’s most important:
I am confident and capable…
I will keep trying until I succeed…
Create several mantras such as these that you can use throughout the day to keep yourself focused on what matters most.
Turn Your Inner Critic into a Catalyst for Growth
Your next step is to turn your Inner Critic into a catalyst for growth and positive change. To do this you must begin interpreting their words as a “call to action” to help motivate you towards the things you would like to do, be, have and achieve. Therefore, instead of coming from a place of vulnerability and insecurity, you must come from a place of empowerment. Subsequently you must not wilt under the pressure of your Inner Critic’s words, but instead, use it as a challenge to help you move forward in a better way.
I’ll take that as a challenge… and I’ll prove you wrong… I am far more capable then you could ever imagine…
Access Your Inner Advisers
There is one final suggestion left on the table that will help you create an effective buffer between you and your Inner Critic.
At times your Inner Critic can be totally overbearing, difficult to shut out, and impossible to negotiate with. It’s during moments such as these that you need a buffer, and that buffer comes in the form of an Inner Adviser.
Your Inner Adviser is an imaginary mentor that can help strengthen your confidence when your Inner Critic becomes too overbearing. This Inner Adviser can, of course, be an imaginary figure, or even a historical figure. He/she can even be a famous person that you look up to, or even someone you personally know who is a source of strength in your life.
Your objective is to create an “access point” where you can tap into your Inner Adviser when you need them most. This “need” will often come when your Inner Critic is attempting to take charge of a situation. Therefore, instead of wilting away under the pressure that your Inner Critic is placing on your shoulders, turn to your Inner Adviser for guidance. Ask him/her for advice about what is the most rational way to think and approach this particular situation. Moreover, ask why it makes sense to go against the advice of your Inner Critic and how this can be of value in the long-run.
Here are some questions you might like to ask your Inner Adviser:
How is my Inner Critic’s advice to my detriment?
Is there any value to what my Inner Critic is suggesting?
What’s a more rational way to think about this situation?
What could I do instead that will help provide me with greater value in the long-run?
Like a mentor, your Inner Adviser will be there to help you through the toughest moments of your life where your Inner Critic often likes to take control. Use your Inner Adviser as an effective buffer between you and your Inner Critic, and you will progressively transition from a weak and vulnerable position to a more empowered state where you alone decide your fate.
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