By Keri Nola, LMHC
We all know this voice. It’s the one that shows up when we are being human and it says things like, “You’re so stupid! How could you have said or done that!? What were you thinking!? No one is going to like you if you keep saying/doing that! You screwed everything up!”
Before we learn how to be in relationship with this part of us, we usually respond to its rants in a few ways: believe it and adjust our behavior accordingly, while feeling ashamed; engage in an argument with it; or try to ignore it while it nags at us from behind the scenes. I don’t know about you, but none of these options have offered me a long-term solution that I found satisfying.
If you are ready to take another step in the direction of embracing yourself wholeheartedly (that includes your inner critic!) here are a few suggestions for engaging with your inner critic from a place of understanding and empowerment:
Hear and Acknowledge it. All parts of us deserve to be heard and acknowledged. However, this doesn’t mean we always take what parts of us are saying as truth and buy into it. We can acknowledge our inner critic when we hear it’s feedback by saying something like, “I hear you. I hear how stupid you think it was that I just said or did that.” As this part repeats its opinions and thoughts, we can continue acknowledging that we hear them without agreement. Over time, as the inner critic knows it is being valued and heard, it is usually more easily soothed.
Link it. Our inner critic’s primary job is to serve as our protector. I know it doesn’t feel particularly protective to be criticized, but it’s helpful to understand we often develop a means to criticize ourselves internally to 1) avoid being caught off guard by external criticism and/or 2) because we feel like this is the only way to keep our behaviors in check so we can be accepted by others. When we notice our inner critic being particularly active, it’s a perfect opportunity to see if we can link it with what’s going on in our lives and where we feel we need “protection.” Once we identify these patterns, we can understand the purpose of the inner critic and develop more empathy and compassion towards it rather than reject and/or fear it.
Realistic Expectations. Most importantly, it’s helpful to have realistic expectations. More than expecting you will be able to “get rid of” or “extinguish” your inner critic, there’s an opportunity to embrace and value its intentions, and to work with it instead of against the voice. The reality is, most of us will continue to hear the voice of our inner critic from time to time. It’s part of our humanity, but it is about how we choose to engage with it that makes all the difference. Consider choosing to be present with this part of you and follow the steps above for a more peaceful inner relationship.
It’s not our job to be a drill sergeant or to create barriers to separate ourselves from any of our parts; these approaches keep us disconnected both internally and externally. It’s our job to cultivate a safe inner space where all parts of us can be heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted for their unique and valuable contributions to our wholeness. Here’s to being our own safe place to fall as we continue navigating our journeys back home to ourselves!
Keri Nola is author of “A Year on Your Path to Growth: Daily Inspirations to Reconnect with Your Soul,” and founder of Path to Growth LLC, a Central Florida-based integrative healing center that blends traditional and holistic techniques for journeys to peace. As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Nola provides psychotherapy and facilitates therapeutic retreats for those seeking to reconnect with their inner wisdom, particularly after trauma or loss. She also offers heart-inspired business consultations for healthcare professionals. For more information visit www.pathtogrowth.com, on Facebook and Twitter @pathtogrowth.
NOTE: Picture of Keri Nola by Monica Alfonso