I’m too fat…
I’ll never be able to leave this job…
I’m not good enough…
No one will ever really love me…
I can’t start my own business…
I don’t know enough…
My friend hates me…
I never should have said that…felt that…done that…been that…
No wonder we are sometimes stumped.
In suspension in the limbo-state of inaction.
After all, if we have these kind of things going through our head, it’s a wonder we get anything done or even get up in the morning for that matter!
But does everyone have this kind of critical voice inside their head? And if you do have a voice like this, can you do anything to change it?
Your own inner critic…
Working as a psychologist and having had the privilege of being able to delve into the minds of the people I’ve worked with, I can tell you that I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t have this inner critic.
As humans, we all have that small voice inside of us, the one that has us question our actions.
It’s the voice that challenges us. It puts us down. It tries to thwart us off of our path, all the while making us feel like we are incapable or not good enough or worthy enough, or slim enough or strong enough. I’m sure you can fill in the blank here with whatever over-riding thoughts you may recognise as your own common inner dialogue.
This ‘voice’ has been written about, discussed and given various names and descriptions for many, many years. It’s not new! It is part of the human condition.
Steve Peters calls this voice the ‘inner chimp’, similar to other ‘Ape Brain’ theories. The part of your brain that feels almost independent from your ‘conscious’ brain. It is very emotional, has a big impact on what you do and feels out of your control (see: http://chimpmanagement.com)
Freud’s ID, Ego and Superego theory is arguably part of the same discussion. Although strictly a model that addresses personality, the Superego is like this inner critical voice (more a combination of the ID and Superego actually, but this isn’t a psychology lesson).
The Superego is the part of your internal self that tries to regulate the carnal desires, wants and needs of the ID, with its EGO-self or the conscious, rationale and thinking part of you. The EGO wants very much to a part of society and to play along with the rules that allow for this to happen.
Image from: http://biandafedia.blogspot.co.uk
Label it what you will, the outcome is the same. Inaction, debilitation, poor-thinking, lower-self esteem, confliction, destructive patterns of behaviour and even other more serious ramifications like anxiety and depression if these feelings and thoughts are not kept in check.
You see, if you allow these maladaptive thought patterns to bed-in, they become your reality. So you will be…fat..stupid…not good enough! Again, you fill in the blank here.
What you can do to overcome the voice…
Though I couldn’t possibly cover everything here that you could do to stop these inner critical thoughts from infiltrating your mind, I do want to share a couple of things that might help you if you too are experiencing that frustrating voice of criticism.
The first thing is to know, that YOU CAN OVERCOME it!
A lot of therapeutic practice focuses on helping people to recognise this negative voices and to work on ways to ‘turn them around’.
Notice I didn’t say get rid of them….
To be honest, I challenge anyone to get rid of their inner-critic completely.
No sooner might you think that you have mastered these criticisms, then another ugly one rears its head. Our unconscious selves are pesky in this manner, and work quite hard to make you doubt yourself, finding a new route to do so where it can (we are sophisticated creatures you know!).
What I would say in this case is to first begin by trying to take note of what these voices are saying. You literally may want to make a note of them…write them down, Do you notice any patterns?
Sometimes, this voice is working hard to have you recognise something that needs your attention, so it is not always the case that you want to block it out or change the content…it really may be there to help you! For example are you engaging in something that is not helping you…any destructive behaviours for example?
It’s good to notice if you also see patterns regarding particular times that you hear the inner-critic. Is it in certain situations for example, or around particular people (family are fantastic at eliciting all manner of inner-critical conversations).
Once you’ve noted these things, so what the voice is saying and when, then you can get a sense of where the criticism comes from and what it is related to. It is also good to note if you adapt your behaviours/actions based on this thought.
For example, a constant inner critical voice saying ‘I am not worthy’ is quite generic. You may notice however, that you often feel like this around a particular group of friends and that the action associated with this thought is to ‘eat’.
In recognising this, you then have access to an entire process of thinking through to the behaviours that are elicited when you think these things. Having knowledge of this allows you to ‘break’ the critical cycle.
You may also notice how you work to create this as your reality?
This is what I mean by embedding these destructive behaviours. Take the example above…
You not ‘feeling worthy’ is not a reality….just take that in for a moment. It is not reality, but something you have probably created via years of making it real via continuing the same patterns of thinking and action.
In this case I would ask you explore if you feel like this at other times too?
I’d also ask you if you have a first memory of feeling not worthy, as per our example? You see, you are not born ‘un-worthy’. It is a decision that has been made by you somewhere on your journey.
If you can figure out where it comes from (you don’t have to, but this can be quite a powerful thing to uncover), then you get to see how you created this thought. The ‘reality’ of this then, is not only in the thoughts that you have, but in your actions in this case and usually the repetitive actions overtime that embed this thought making it your all consuming reality.
In this example, eating brings the feeling (the inner-critic) to life and hence it becomes something that is in existence in your world and this can feel harder to get rid of…a vicious inner-critical cycle!
You get to re-create it…
In acknowledging that this is a voice that is created by you, you get to ‘un-create it’ or re-create it in a way that better serves you.
In this case, think of words or phrases to replace the old. It can very, very simple.
For example, take ‘I am not worthy’. You can literally try to change it to ‘I am worthy’ (or ‘because you’re worth it!…just like the advert). This can also become like a mantra, so something that you repeat to yourself more often, as a way of embedding the thought, and therefore taking control over a non-serving cycle. I would also strongly suggest that you work on changing your actions to align with this new thought. In this case you think of something else to do that replaces any negative actions as a result of the inner-critic. For example, instead of eating as in the above example, you go for a walk, read a chapter of a book, write in a journal, draw picture, colour in a page in your mindfulness colouring book. You choose!
This process of being aware, of acknowledging what your inner-critic is saying; of taking note of when you hear it, where it comes from and consciously, mindfully thinking of new thoughts and actions to replace the old version of you, is a sure way of re-conditioning your thinking.
Remember, you won’t ever get rid of it…you don’t always want to as we’ve illustrated here, but replacing negative thinking with positive thoughts, will help you find a happier, more grounded and more aware you.
Best of luck on your journey…
Til next week!
Before you go….!
Want to come along to the new Multi-passionate Monthly Breakfast Meeting in Nottingham City Centre? Then write your name down below to find out details for the first meeting taking place soon!
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