What is this inner critic, or what some call the superego? The inner critic is that inner judge that tells us how to behave so that we can uphold social standards. It develops when we're around 5 or 6 years old as we internalize messages mostly from our families (teachers and peers too) about what's acceptable and what's not. The problem with the inner critic is that this judge deeply limits our true potential and natural expression. For those with harsh or abusive families, that internal voice of criticism can be loud...and just as abusive and harsh. It might say things like, "God you're so stupid." or "You're so pathetic" or "You'll never have the life you want." For others, perhaps your parents weren't critical but they conveyed messages about how unsafe the world is or messages about the evils of money or not getting "too big for your britches." The inner critic may show up more as self doubt or a loss of confidence or energy any time you try to take on a new challenge. It occurs more as a whisper of "It's not okay to be too successful or take up space in this world."
In my workshop on Self Love in May, we will be working directly with the inner critic. I had a spiritual teacher recently say about the inner critic, "There is a natural movement inside of us that wants to be free from the oppression of the inner critic. We need to find that movement and use it." So what does that mean? Well, to work with it you need to do the following:
1. Externalize the inner critic Meaning, see the critic as a part outside of your true self, your essence/spirit/soul/higher self. This is really important. This critic is not you. It's the "lid" on top of you that holds you back or down.
2. Identify the wording of the inner critic. See what really lands as you imagine this voice outside of you. "You're so fat." "You're so stupid." "You don't have what it takes." "You'll never have love."
3. See if you can identify if there's a person behind these words. Is it your father or your sister, that nun from 2nd grade or an abusive boyfriend? Sometimes it doesn't belong to any one person, but what we imagine a group of people thinks about us. Start to picture them.
4. And then, as you observe how these words land, see what natural movement starts to happen inside of you. Part of you might start to feel deflated. Or say, yup, that's true! But see if you can feel something else inside your body. It might start as a facial expression of defiance or irritation. You might feel a need to wiggle or ball up your fist. You want to see if you can feel a force, the essence of your internal strength pushing back, against this inner critic. See what it's like to do some squats or push against a wall (engage your arms and legs) as you hear this voice. Punch the air or make big movements. Let forceful words bubble up like< "F**k off" or "Go away" or "No way! Not today!" or "Nice try. Go pick on someone else."
5. Once you find some words that seem to let your strength come through, know that this takes practice and you will have to keep saying these words or finding new ones. Over time, it gets easier to blow that lid off and you will feel less weighed down by those harsh criticisms. The bad news is that the critic often gets sneakier in how it attacks you! So, it's a lifelong journey working with the inner critic for most of us. That's where compassion for yourself and this process is so important. You're doing the best you can. Be gentle with yourself but forceful against that inner critic!