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I grew up with a Yiddish grandmother, so I know that everything is on the table for commentary. Imagine that person that is always around the next corner ready to comment on what you say. It definitely felt like a cat and mouse game, so I’ve learned to scurry around grabbing tiny morsels of sustenance, ever watchful as to not fall into her trap.
The language of the critic is sharp, piercing, and debilitating. It’s fluency to disapprove and analyse everything from appearance, emotions, intelligence is utterly remarkable. What perhaps started as an exterior voice from a concrete “other” then becomes an interior voice that sounds like your own. These spaces are the soil for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, addictions, and self-destructive behaviors. They kill productivity, intimacy, and confidence.
Imagine the scenario that you are about to make a presentation at work. You are prepared and couldn’t be more ready. Then the cold sweats come, the pit in your stomach, and the raging doubt in your head. All of a sudden you feel like you could get sick, pass out, or both. What happened?
Perhaps there was a presenter before you, and now you are stuck in comparison. Maybe you saw that coworker that intimidates or caught a glance at the boss to see a perceived or real expression across their face and presumed it was disapproval of you.
On a more personal side, imagine the scenario where you are having an enjoyable encounter with a partner. There’s connection and joy. Then the pessimistic thoughts start creeping in and you become worried about your appearance, when just a moment prior there was joy.
Whether it is for personal or professional reasons, we’ve got to conquer that beast!
1. Take a deeper breath
When you notice the thoughts spiraling in your head, feel that gripping and tightening in your gut and chest, lengthen your breath. Bring your attention to your breath. Inhale in through your nose and exhale through your mouth while making your exhale longer. Perhaps you use a counting system. Breathe in with the count of 2,4, or 6. Breathe out with corresponding 4,6, or 8. Lengthen the exhale.
“Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” – Frank Sinatra
Befriend the beast, get to know it. Once you are more aware of the running commentary in your head you’ll be able to catch yourself when you are facing that overly critical space.
Recognize its go to shaming statements, “You are so stupid,” “Oh, you really messed that up,” “How could you ever think that they would like your work,” or any and every variation of these statements. Where does shame attack? Identify how it feels in your body, emotions, and mind.
I’ve met a lot of people in my life, and there is not one person that is shielded from the powers and workings of the inner critic. We all have an Achilles heel. The inner critic knows them well, launches out for those vulnerable spaces, and goes on the defensive.
Believe it or not, the inner critic’s primary job is to keep you safe. It does its job well. If you curtail your hopes, aspirations, and goals so as to not risk, the inner critic thinks it’s saving you from a lifetime of embarrassment.
It is also hindering you from soaring into life with purpose and achievement. Accept that the inner critic’s voice is going to be a part of your life. Learn some skills to acknowledge it and move forward. If you feel trapped in its tentacles and there is nothing you can do to quiet the thoughts running rampant, push pause. Go back to the deeper breathing, take a walk, call a trusted friend, or journal down the recurring thoughts that come and look at them on the paper.
What are you going to do? Are you going to allow the pummeling of the inner critic and get stuck? Or can you focus on solutions to the critique that is coming your way?
An inner critic is just that, a critic. It isn’t solution oriented. Like my Yiddish grandmother, it points out all the flaws. What will you focus upon? What you focus on, you empower. Shift yourself and instead of listening passively to the tear down, build yourself up and do just one thing differently.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
5. Discernment and Compassion
An exercise you can do is to take a moment to look at that list of statements you have journaled about. Acknowledge with compassion any truth that is within them but don’t stop there. Discern where the statements are lies or intimidation. Don’t just silence or ignore the critic, and go on the defensive.
Examine and discern out the spaces that are just not true. You will one day get the promotion because you work hard, there will be a person who is attracted to you because of your strengths and who you are as an individual.
Also, give compassion to that inner critic. 99% of us would never talk to a friend the way we let ourselves talk to ourselves, so begin talking to that part of you as you would a friend.
Show empathy to the parts of you that are frightened of rejection, embarrassment, or shame. Acknowledge them in a kind way, express understanding, show empathy to it as you would another.
Perhaps we don’t conquer the inner critic. Perhaps we learn to tame it and use it to our advantage allowing it to challenge us to be the best versions of ourselves. We can harness its power through breathing deeper, self-awareness, acceptance, and compassion to accompany inner critic into our days and nights.
How do you stop your own inner critic? Do you have any tips you’d be willing to share with us?
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