We all have insecurities and doubts. About ourselves, our lives, what we are or aren’t able to do. These things are often voiced by our inner critics: That nagging feeling that you aren’t good enough. The voices you hear when something goes wrong that go “You see? You suck!”
On our good days we hear our inner critics occasionally, but not overwhelmingly so. We can shake them off pretty easily. But on our more vulnerable days, these inner critics of ours seem to be on speed dial and speaker phone at the same time.
They are able to derail all of our hard work and our happiness with some inner snide commentary, parading our mistakes or flaws around.
I was in my own inner critics’ headlock for most of 2013. Weeks (months) on end where I literally thought of EVERYTHING I am not good at or failed at in the past. My inner critics kept calling me out and giving me a hard time, about everything. It was like having multiple Sue Sylvesters in my head, but with less peroxide and hilarious one-liners.
Eventually I found my way out of their grip. During that time I learnt a lot about myself AND my inner critics. Now we actually get along (most of the time anyway.)
And so can you. Here’s some tips on dealing with your inner critic.
UNCONDITIONAL SELF WORTH A lot of the time, we attach certain demands and conditions to our own self worth: If…then.
If I lose the weight, then I can love myself. If I get the right job, I’m worthy. If that boy falls in love with me, then I’ll have proof I’m beautiful. If I do everything right, I am okay with who I am (pro tip: impossible so STAHP).
Guess what? Even if you fuck up everything, if you do things wrong, if you embarrass yourself or make stupid mistakes, you should still love yourself, appreciate who you are and the good you’ve done. Even if you never accomplish something that society labels as amazing, you’re worthy of your own self love.
Easier said than done, I know. But if you have a starting point of “I’m okay no matter what happens” you can deal a lot better with your inner critics screaming on the inside.
What can help you here? Looking at the people around you, your friends and family. Even if I lose my job, my house, my boyfriend, my yoga practice, my body, my mind, my parents would still love me. My best friends would still love me.
Most likely you could be some sort of hobo who can’t spell and who smells weird, but your people would still love you because you’re you.
You should do that too. Realize you’re okay no matter what. Love yourself no matter what. Your inner critics will have less of a negative impact on you.
LEARN TO OBSERVE. If you notice that your inner criticism really bothers you, how about you take on a mindfulness approach to it? Take a step back within your mind, just look at it.
Just observe your self criticism, look at it like it’s an interesting zoo animal. Dealing with your inner critic is partially just letting these thoughts happen without letting it get you down.
“Oh hey, I give myself shit about not looking like a model every morning I walk out the door. Peculiar.”
“So I’ve basically been beating myself up over accidentally sending the wrong files to my boss for two days.”
“I feel like I’m antisocial for not going to that party with my friends and it’s making me feel quite terrible and like I’m a shitty friend.”
Try to take on a more objective, distanced perspective. Disconnect from the strong negative feelings that might be attached to your inner criticism and just look at what’s happening in your head.
SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE. When you’re stuck in the negative ‘I suck’ spiral, this feels very unnatural and weird. You should do it anyway: Focus on evidence to the contrary of what you’re inner critic is saying.
Things that prove you DON’T suck. Things that you’ve done that indicate you’re NOT a total failure. Things that people said that show you’re NOT useless.
When my inner critic was yelling at me that I wasn’t good at my job, I looked at positive student evaluations, emails from coworkers and this award I got for it (not that big of a deal, but still cool).
When my inner critic was telling me I was the worst girlfriend ever, I looked at all the things I’d done right in my relationship. I’d go over the situations where I had been good to Manfriend. I’d think about the things Manfriend had said before about me being such a great influence on him. I’d try to see the qualities in me that make me a good significant other.
When my inner critic was telling me I was lazy and undisciplined, I’d look back on evidence that I wasn’t. The way I used to study, 30 Day yoga trials. (Next I’d say “SO FUCKING WHAT” to my inner critic and sit on the couch with Ben&Jerry’s and a good movie because who cares)
I’ll stop before this turns into a LOOK-I’M-GOOD-AT-STUFF-schpiel — too late probably. I apologize if it made you nauseous but a point needed to be made.
Often our inner critic is set off by some slip-up. ONE mistake, while there is TONS of things you’ve done right in the past in this area. Focus on those things when your inner critics start yelling.
ENGAGE WITH THE INNER CRITIC. This is a little different than the two tips before, but I feel it needs to be said too: Don’t shut the inner critic out completely.
Keep in mind that you are this incredibly complex being, with a lot of different drives, impulses and desires in one. One of THE WORST things you can do is ignore a part of yourself. Eventually this is going to bite you in the ass.
So trust me. Unless you’re a raging blood-thirsty psychopath, every part of you deserves to be heard. Even the parts that aren’t super positive or supportive, but are harsh and demanding and even demeaning at times.
Have you ever tried really listening to your inner critic? Or do you try to drown these voices out completely by distracting yourself with a lot of other inner/outer noise?
It’s worth listening in to, preferably if you can do it objectively (see tip 1.) Because not all inner critics are created equal. They have different voices, they come from different layers in your personality, they want to accomplish different things.
Really listen. What’s behind the criticism? Fear of failing or a fear of trying? Unreasonable perfectionism or a healthy drive for excellence? Is it outrageously demanding or asking you to do better because you’re not pulling your weight? Is it abusive talk tearing you down or just a slight whine of dissatisfaction that you feel every once in a while?
I know my inner critics.
There is one voice that thinks I’m never going to be good enough for anything – That one’s a dick and he only gets an eyeroll and a shove after I’ve let him have his say.
There’s another one who demands I do the best I can with what I’m given and she calls me out on my shit – She’s alright.
There’s one who rehashes ALL my previous mistakes whenever she deems fit – I shush that one all the time, but I do let it be heard. Keeps me sharp and prevents me from making the same mistakes again.
There is one part who has a bad case of impostor syndrome – I need to present him with evidence that I actually am who I say I am, as well as offer a little counseling for secret insecurities.
Basically, stop being afraid of those negative thoughts and inner critics.
Be like “Okay fucking fine. You wanna be heard? LET’S HEAR IT.” And you decide what to do with it after.
BRING IN THE COACH. Inner criticism is worth very little if you can’t use it in a constructive way. So, after hearing out the inner critic, bitching about what you did wrong, bring in the inner coach and think of ways to do it right next time.
Inner critic upset with you because you failed a test? Calling you dumb, lazy, and a failure? Hear him out, think of reasons why he should take it down a notch anyway (tests you past, how hard you studied, things you succeeded at) and think of what to do next. Let the inner coach come up with a plan and take action. Ask the professor if you can look into your answers to see what you did wrong, look up more effective ways to study and put in more hours.
Inner critic giving you shit over a failed exercise or diet routine? Let ’em rant, think of the days/weeks/months that you did eat healthy or worked out and now let coach take over. Find some time this week to take a fitness class, make sure to eat a few healthy meals and try to get back on track.
Inner critic doing some yelling over something stupid you said to a friend? Let it out, think of the times you were actually pretty smooth and let coach think of ways to salvage your relationship with that friend, improve your social skills and maybe find an alternative answer for next time.
…And if all else fails? Remember Sue Sylvester. A big mouth, mean, kind of horrible and a terribly harsh critic? Sure. But she had good in her too. And so do (a lot of) your inner critics. So listen to all of them, then tell the bad ones to fuck off and tell the good ones ‘thank you’.