Gentling the inner critic

In a recent Ideas Community email I asked if other people have an inner critic and, if so, how they dealt with it.

By ‘inner critic’ I mean a voice in your head that belittles, criticises or discourages you.

Here’s a brief snippet of what mine might say as I write this, so you can see what I’m talking about:

“This writing isn’t good enough. I can’t share this kind of drivel. Think of those poor people, having to put up with my wittering… It’s embarrassing. I’m embarrassing. This is just like that time I wrote an English essay I thought was entertaining and funny and the teacher said it was ‘immature’. I should just give up now.”

I used to listen to that kind of stuff and really take it to heart. I thought all those nasty, judgmental things were true and I felt constantly afraid and ashamed.

Then, one day, I discovered a different voice inside my head – a gentle, compassionate one. I stumbled into a conversation with it completely by accident. It was one of the strangest things that’s ever happened to me. So strange that I’m currently writing a book about the experience (amongst other things).

Learning to communicate with that other voice – my ‘inner coach’, if you like – transformed my mental health. The more I got used to conducting respectful two-way conversations in my head, the more I started talking back to my inner critic rather than just accepting everything it said as being what I thought.

So the example of negative self-talk above isn’t what I experience now. My inner critic is still alive and kicking, but these days our relationship looks a little different:

IC: This writing isn’t good enough. You can’t share this kind of drivel.

Me: I’m just getting some ideas down here. Give me a chance. I can always rewrite them in a minute.

IC: I’m pretty sure the next version will be rubbish too. Think of those poor people, having to put up with your wittering…

Me: They can always stop reading if they want to. I’m just going to keep going and do the best I can.

IC: It’s embarrassing. You’re embarrassing. This is just like that time when you wrote an English essay you thought was entertaining and funny and your teacher said it was ‘immature’. You should just give up now.

Me: Would you mind just shutting up for a minute? I’m trying to write here….

From the responses I received, it’s clear that there are all sorts of ways to change our relationship with a critical inner voice. Some people find meditation and mindfulness helpful in creating the mental space necessary to take the thoughts less seriously. Some people talk back to their critic in a similar way to the one I describe above. Others have found their own version of a compassionate ‘inner coach’. Here are some links, if you’d like to explore more of the ideas people shared:

Alfred and Shadow – A short story about self-criticism

How the subconscious mind works

Internal Family Systems Model

So I’m curious…do you have an inner critic too?

If so, how do you handle yours?

………On a related note, here a link to a music video my community made back in 2011. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the sound of lots of different people’s inner critics in the introduction. Amazing how hard we can be on ourselves, isn’t it?