We make mistakes. We can feel like we bumble through life. We fall, and we get back up again. I don’t know about you, but on my way to getting back up from a fall, I used to do a really good job of beating myself up for falling in the first place. Our inner critic can be toxic. The physical injury from the fall was nothing compared to the emotional battering I gave myself. The drive for perfection and the misconception that we can be perfect do not tend to serve us in a healthy way. Indeed, if that drive is strong enough, it can lead us straight into stress, anxiety, and a cycle of chronic pain. Here is a process to help you heal your inner critic and develop and cultivate self-compassion.
We live in a culture of paradox in many ways. For instance, I was raised in a family where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were defined. At school, there was the answer, or we got the problem wrong and were graded as such. In the world of computers, there is ‘on’ and ‘off’ – another ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ area in our lives. Grey areas and space where mistakes are encouraged and nourished as doors of discovery instead of ‘you got it wrong (– again!)’ just don’t fit in this part of our world. It is a paradox for us to then shift from that ‘perfectionist’ kind of thinking and discipline to a way of living that opens us up to trial and error as a fact of life, even a bastion of possibility! It is no wonder that we are confused and feel frustration and anxiety.
When we bring our awareness to this situation and realize that our inner critic is working overtime in an area it doesn’t even belong, we can make a shift.
When our inner critic gets to be this influential in our life, I say it’s time for a makeover. Here is a process to help you ‘tame’ your Inner Critic.
1) Make the decision to change: I realized one day that I was feeling so tired of the heavyweight I felt every time I heard the voice of my Inner Critic, that I decided to make a change – for once and for all. Such a decision is the first step in claiming a hold on the inner critic and some power over it.
2) Ask yourself – what can you do to affect lasting change and shift how your inner critic shows up for me? Realize that this inner critic voice is in some ways a helpful one and that it would always be with you in some way. Knowing and accepting this, you can decide to re-assign the role of your inner critic, specifically in the way it speaks to you.
3) The Makeover: First, get a handle on exactly who this was that you are working with. Sit quietly and sense into all that you can about your inner critic. What did he/she look like? What did he/she wear and how did he/she hold him/herself in ‘the world’? What did he/she sound like? What kind of mood is he/she in? What is he/she feeling? The answers can be quite revealing. Through answering these questions, you can really understand this inner persona.
This is how this exercise worked out for me:
I imagined my Inner critic as standing about 7 feet tall (to my actual 5’4”). She wore the black robes of a Supreme Court judge and held a steady, sullen, and stern gaze everywhere her eyes went, as she lorded over the world judging all within her reach. Her hair was pulled up into a tight bun. Her face was ashen from not ever being out in the sun. She smelled musty and of mothballs. She never smiled and always had a negative and critical comment about everything, whether asked for or not. She just always came off as so serious. And she was relentless.
Well, looking at that powerful personality, it’s no wonder I felt heavy and uncomfortable every time I heard her voice! Now my job was to reassign her to a new position altogether. Again I asked myself, “How would you like her to be?” It was my choice after all. I was designing, or rather re-designing this powerful visage in my life. I thought for a while, imagining who I would really love for her to become.
I began with changing her attire. I gave her long flowing white robes embroidered with flowers of every color of the rainbow. I let her hair down and softly brushed it out for her. It fell gracefully down below her shoulders. I placed her outside in a beautiful garden, and as the sun shined down on her, pink cheeks appeared to replace her ashen skin. I gave her lavender oil to calm her, rose oil for love, and chocolate to give her a taste of the sweetness in life. Finally, I gave her a mantra: “I forgive you, and I forgive myself.” Aw, now that is closer to a trusted wise woman.
There was one more piece I needed to bring into this makeover. What did her voice sound like? What could I do to replace my inner critic’s strident, ever-judging voice? I thought and consideration. Finally, it came to me. I would replace this Supreme Court judge with a comedian – an older, wise woman. Who would that be, I wondered? As I sat quietly sensing into the moment, one voice came right into my mind: Joan Rivers. Perfect! Joan Rivers had such a wonderful sense of humor, and always had a hilarious or at least clever comment to make about everything. Joan Rivers was my girl. I never looked back from there. My Inner critic was now rebranded. I gave myself a hug and gratefully, joyfully embraced all that I was.
It took a little practice and awareness for me to implement and integrate the ‘being nature’ of my newly minted wise woman inner critic, but I was determined to shift my internal dialogue. I held the intention to listen to this new version and if I ever heard the voice of the old judgmental inner critic in my mind, I reminded her that she has a new role and to kindly get with the program.
Now – how can you shift your inner critic to be more like a wise, loving, maybe even humorous companion?
- We all make mistakes. Instead of feeling bad about it, see them as avenues for further discovery.
- If you are hearing negative self-talk, decide to make a change – and make it!
- Notice how your inner critic is showing up for you.
- Rebrand your inner critic. And then consciously stick with this new, kinder voice as it integrates into your life. Develop and cultivate self-compassion.
- Give yourself a hug and embrace all that you are.
- Be gentle with yourself. Please.
To be human is to ‘be’, not to ‘be perfect’. We may be momentarily hesitant when things don’t go the way we expected or wanted. That’s not really the point. The point is: you are doing the best you can. And – what are you learning in these moments of making mistakes? Your world doesn’t suddenly become less meaningful at these times. The world doesn’t stop spinning on its axis. You haven’t broken some cardinal rule. You are not ‘bad’, ‘wrong’, or ‘unworthy’. You are human.
We forgive ourselves when things go differently from what we had intended. It doesn’t matter if it’s a filter for a moment or if it’s a bigger thing. We must stand for ourselves in self-love, our sense of self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-compassion, no matter what the ‘infraction’ we make or feel that we cause. Forgiveness and self-compassion are foundational to building a sturdy, healthy, happy life with ease and joy.
Elizabeth Kipp is a long time seeker of truths with a foot each in the spiritual and scientific worlds. Her life experiences and training enable her to bridge the gap between these two somewhat different worlds.