Have you ever noticed a subtle inner comment that appears somtimes times when you're in the middle of doing something. It might be almost imperceptible - a seemingly throwaway comment such as: 'oh that was stupid'. On the other hand, it might be highly critical and loud, shouting 'you're so stupid' or 'you always get it wrong'. You might be so used to this voice that you just accept that this is how it is to be me. It's like it's you in some way.
The truth is though, it is not actually you. It speaks at you and not from you. There's a subtle but really important difference there. It can be difficult to separate yourself from believing that this inner critic is absolutely right in what it says as it can be incredibly convincing.
The first step to change
... is just noticing that it is there. It's a bit like a coat you've been wearing for so long that you've slowly but surely forgotten how uncomfortable it has become.There are some useful ways to spot it:
It uses phrases such as 'always', 'must' and 'should'
It's never satisfied, whatever you do
It lives in places of vulnerability e.g. the bathroom mirror, weighing scale, facebook/instagram posts of people 'having a great time', unfamiliar situations, job performance, friendship issues, carbs, and can even live in 'not drinking enough water'!
What can you do once you spot it? A next step can be just to observe it. Journalling about it might be one way to do this, keeping a list of all its demands. You might begin to see that it has rather a large list! Another way can be to distract yourself by doing something nourishing like reading a book, listening to music etc.
The counselling process can really help too, as in the counselling relationship a space is created that is unique - a place of no judgement, empathy and care. This can be quite a disorientating place for the inner critic, as it isn't used to breathing this kind of air! Together then we can start to care for the inner critic, which, ironically, has been doing its best all this time to protect you from getting hurt. How is this so? Well, if It says 'you always get it wrong', the flip side of this is, it's worried that if you get things wrong then you'll get criticised by others and that will hurt. Therefore it jumps in first before anyone else can. How exhausting this can get - a spiral that can go on and on until you can separate yourself from it all and look at it, as if from a distance to get a new perspective on it all.
What voice can I trust? There is a you in there who can get dampened down by the inner critic. the voice may be muted but you may recognise it from the description below. This is what you can nurture over time in many ways - through self-compassion, self-nurture, or just 'doing what feels right'. Over time, it is possible to acknowledge the inner critic and listen to its concerns. Then it can begin to change and ultimately become your ally.
Some of the thoughts in this article are based on reading a fabulous book called Embracing Your Inner Critic by Hal & Sidra Stone.
The inner voice image descriptions are derived from a great article called Working with the inner critic: Process features and pathways to change by Nele Stinckens , Germain Lietaer & Mia Leijssen (Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 12, 2013 - Issue 1 Published Online: 22 Apr 2013)