Like many people, perhaps you are aware of having inner thoughts that are critical of who you are or what you've done. These thoughts are usually some version of "you're not worthy," or "you're incompetent," or "you're unloveable," and so on. This is the inner critic and the impact of it's messages can be anywhere from annoying to devastating, significantly affecting our relationships, career and self esteem.
The inner critic is a program that was useful for ensuring our survival as a young child. It’s an internalized voice, usually of a parent, that we developed to keep us alive by focusing our attention on our parents expectations and away from ourselves. Unfortunately the imperative is to keep us alive at any cost; think shame, guilt, judgment, depression, and low self-esteem.
Also unfortunately, there is no software update or delete function for this program. As far as I know, we’re stuck with this voice for the rest of our life, but we can learn to counteract the attack of the inner critic and minimize its affect.
The inner critic does not like to be noticed or challenged. It prefers to influence our lives quietly in the background. Here are two exercises that you can do to recognize and challenge the inner critic. You can do both of them at the same time if you want.
Learning to notice the inner critic… Get yourself a notebook or someplace you can keep notes. When you recognize the inner critic attacking, take note of:
Notice how many inner critic attacks you catch in one day. It’s not unusual for there to be so many attacks that you can’t make note of them all. Now notice the details. What is the general message of the attacks? When do they tend to happen? What are you being “protected” from - interacting with others, the risk of failure, something else? Whose “voice” does the attack sound like? If you can do this for a few days or a week, you’ll get lots of good information and just the noticing will change your relation with the inner critic.
If you’re ready for a challenge, try challenging the inner critic… The next time the inner critic is attacking, yell out loud something like, “That’s not helpful, go away!” or even “Get the **** out of my head!” You have to match or exceed the energy of the message, so put some oomph behind it - yell like you mean it! If the inner critic doesn’t stop, try again - remember you have to be more committed to ending the critical messages than it is to continuing the critical message. Be sure to notice if the voice of the inner critic stops.
I hope this gives you some insight and control over the inner critic and it's messages.
The other day I was driving, and as I slowed down to take a corner, the driver of the car behind me aggressively laid into his horn. I became instantly angry. There was no time to identify the trigger and choose a response; I just went from zero to furious in the blink of an eye and executed a near simultaneous rude hand gesture without making any conscious choice. Instantly regretting it, I wondered, What just happened?
As I reviewed the incident in my mind I saw a fleeting moment of fear that happened after I heard the honk. It makes sense; a horn indicates someone’s idea of danger and danger elicits fear and I was focused on turning the corner, not what was going on behind me. But where did the anger come from?
We are all conditioned in how we respond to anger. Anger is often called a “secondary emotion” because, much of the time, anger is covering over another emotion that, for some reason, isn’t acceptable to some part of us. A lot of families had some sort of unspoken rule about anger like, “anger is the main way we communicate” or “no one is allowed to be angry” or “daddy can be angry but no one else can” or “we’re not angry, we’re nice.” These rules from our childhood can affect us into our adulthood.
On top of this there is a cultural norm in the US that anger is a “strong” emotion and therefore, it’s OK to express as opposed to all those “weak” emotions like sadness, fear, shame, and guilt. While this applies generally to everyone in this culture, it’s especially true for males. I had, in a completely automatic and conditioned reaction, covered my fear with anger and attacked the other driver rather than simply feeling the fear.
The main technique in de-conditioning ourselves is to recognize what’s going on. In our recognition distance from the conditioned response is created and we have access to more options in how we respond. After all, it’s my fear and my anger and my response. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the other person; the other person is just there coincidentally, a handy screen to project my conditioning on.
I hope you find this helpful…