While the Inner Critic is universally destructive and squeezes joy from many lives, its intention is to be a helpful force. It is there to protect. It shames you in an attempt to shield you from experiencing humiliation from external sources. Unfortunately while trying to help, it becomes abusive.
The Critic believes the best path to receiving love and support is to follow a rigid and limiting set of rules. Those rules, which may have been somewhat helpful when you were a child, are no longer useful to you as an adult.
For example, you might have developed the strategy of becoming invisible in junior high school in order to avoid the taunts of bullies. It might have been a pretty good strategy--by staying “under the radar” you might have prevented physical attacks or deeply crushing public shaming.
Now that you are an adult the habit of remaining invisible may be causing you pain, depression, and anxiety. The Inner Critic doesn’t realize that you’re now grown up with plenty of resources to defend yourself, and that the risk of physical violence and public shaming has been reduced significantly since you were a child.
The Inner Critic was born during an earlier, scarier time. It operates like the war is still going on, long after a truce has been called.
How To Respond When the Critic is Engaged
The first step is to become aware when the Inner Critic is present. Ask yourself “Am I feeling vulnerable right now?” That’s a sure sign that the critic is nearby. Then listen for any negative self-talk.
A key job in disengaging from the Critic is to name it. Tell yourself “I’m having a Critic attack now.” This realization may not be enough to stop the attack, but it should help you gain some distance.
One reason the judgment of the Critic is so powerful and its messages so hard to resist is that it touches on some kernel of truth. Some part of what the Critic is criticizing is true, so you swallow the whole thing. The fatal flaw is believing everything the Critic is saying to you.
After you learn to identify the presence of the Critic, don’t argue with it—you’ll never win. Whatever you do, it will criticize you. If you push on it, it will just push back.
The best strategy is to borrow techniques from the martial art of Aikido. Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on.
After you identify the voice of the Inner Critic you can apply the Truth Filter. Ask: “Is there anything about this critique that is true?” If so, own it. Acknowledge that truth and let the sadness or loss come up.
Then respond with something like:
“Maybe I should do that thing, but I need more help to do that.”
“Maybe I should be more X, but today I am doing the best I can.”
With this response you are engaging the defense. You are letting it be heard but then gently redirecting your focus to a true and more compassionate viewpoint.
There is an epidemic of unworthiness in our culture. Deep inside so many people feel unlovable. One of the fastest ways to improve our well-being is to practice disengaging from the old stories of the Inner Critic.