Unmasking the Inner Critic for Ourselves and for Children: Part 1
Have you ever said something about yourself that was so mean that you stopped and wondered, “Who said that?” You’re lucky if you have. A lot of the time we don’t even hear the voice, we just assume that it’s us, and take it’s word as truth. I call this voice of negative self talk, the inner critic. And I believe pretty much everyone has one. For many kids, and adults, the inner critic can be a heavy weight that we carry around constantly, like a rock in a backpack, and it’s exhausting just trying to get it to stop talking. Luckily there are some great tools that help us put that rock down, and more importantly, see if for what it really is.
The inner critic is a part of you. It is a voice, a character, an energy. It has its own needs and wants, it has goals and objectives. It has specific triggers that awakens it, and it has tools that it uses, repeatedly.
Here is what the inner critic is not: it is not YOU. It is not your Self.
There are many ways to work with an inner critic so that you can live a more peaceful life. The first step is to start to see it as something apart from your Self and make choices about how YOU want to relate to it. A good first step is removing it’s mask. Frequently our inner critics wear masks that look just like us, so we can’t hear their criticisms and judgment as anything other than crushing fact.
Here is another way to think about it: Who are you more likely to believe - your crazy uncle, or you? Inner critics are a bit like our crazy uncles, they may mean well, you know they’re there for you because their family, but they sometimes say some crazy stuff at family dinner and everyone gets upset.
If your crazy uncle had a strong, negative opinion about something, you are much more likely to hear it and decide for yourself, than you are if that opinion is yours. The one degree of separation makes all the difference. That’s why it’s so important to unmask the inner critic.
Here’s a tool you can try the next time you hear a negative voice yelling strong opinions in your head:
Slow down. Find a quiet place to be still and take a couple breaths.
Notice where in your body you are feeling a physical sensation. When my inner critic is getting loud, my chest gets tight, I feel tension in my neck and back, sometimes my stomach feels uneasy. It’s different for everyone.
Create a visual image of your inner critic. Imagine that your inner critic lives in that spot in your body (at least in this moment). What does it look like? It can be a character, a person, a ball of energy, anything really.
Pause and listen. Get focused and curious as if you were listening to a small child that was just starting to put sentences together and had something very important to say.
Notice how you feel. What’s it like to hear it’s thoughts and beliefs? How do you feel toward it?
There is lot’s more work we need to do to help our inner critics find harmony within us. Taking off the mask and noticing that this part of you has thoughts and feelings apart from you will give you so much power in how you respond. Often just the generous act of listening to an inner critic will change its behavior. It’s not too far off from an unruly child that just needs someone to sit down and listen to why they’re so mad.
In part 2 I’ll explain how the inner critic shows up in kids, and how we can coach them back to their true Self. In the meantime, practice on yourself! Embodying these ideas is much more useful than just understanding them intellectually. Practice, practice, practice!