The Solution to Self-Criticism is Never More Criticism

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Tired of fighting your inner critic? Discover why the solution to self-criticism is never more criticism and find out what is!

Tired of fighting your inner critic? Discover why the solution to self-criticism is never more criticism and find out what is!

Jerk.Gremlin.Monster.A-hole.These are some of the many names I’ve seen used to describe our inner critic. You know, that voice in our head that tells us all the ways in which we’re falling short, screwing up, not good enough, and… well, you know what I’m talking about. No need for further explanation, right?I understand the name-calling. If someone is screaming nasty, vicious, and character-shredding things, I have a choice: scream back, crumble, or leave (usually the best option).But when it’s me saying those things to myself, there is no leaving.So I try to ignore, I try to pretend it doesn’t exist, doesn’t bother me, I listen to positive affirmations that tell me yes, I am a beautiful flower, inside and out! But behind these words is my inner critic, chanting “Wrooooooooooong.” And at some point I  have to fight the urge to snap back, “For the love of all that is good and reasonable, please shut the f*** up.”There is a special kind of frustration and fatigue that comes with a vocal inner critic, saying nasty things to you day in, day out. It’s soul-destroying, and telling it where to get off can feel bold! Empowering! Like you’re taking back control!But I also think that’s when the self-war really starts.Years ago, I heard someone (I can’t remember who now) talk about the dynamics between therapists and clients and how the therapist has a choice: he either allows the client to pull him into their world or he encourages the client to step into his.I think the same dynamic applies to our inner critics. We can either lower ourselves—our behaviour, communication, standards—to their level. We can shout back, name-call, say things about it that are as nasty as the things they say to us. Or, we can encourage them to rise to our standards and model what fair, compassionate communication looks like.The solution to self-criticism is never more criticism. Of ourselves, or of our inner critics.So what is?Compassion, yes. But when that feels too far out of reach, I prefer to go for acceptance. And when that feels too far out of reach, simply witnessing. Practising being an impartial observer. Noticing the thoughts running through my head, the feelings those thoughts provoke, and what I want (or don’t want) to do as a result of those feelings.  Noticing all of this with the lens of "Huh, that's interesting." Noticing these pieces all fit together in a jigsaw of “Stuff I’m still working on (and that’s OK).”I once heard someone talking about what people want—really, truly want (again, I can’t remember who—I need to start writing these things down in the moment…). This person said it boiled down to wanting someone to see us for all and everything we are and say “I hear you, I see you, and I understand you.” I don’t know about you, but I think the person it is most difficult for me to say these words to with sincerity is myself, including my inner critic.So I start with one piece at a time.OK, inner critic, I hear you. I don’t agree with you, I don’t accept what you’re saying as de facto truth and I’m certainly not buying into these stories you’re selling, but I will not fight you anymore.OK, inner critic, I see you. I see beneath your anger, vitriol and incessant nagging to fear. A deep well of fear and scarcity that has nothing to do with me as a person and everything to do with your beliefs about the world and my place in it. Here, I’m giving you back these beliefs because they belong to you. I see you as a part of me, and I also see you don’t represent me as a whole.OK, inner critic, I understand you. I see you trying to keep me small, hidden, sticking to the rules and the script—to you, this is safety. I see that deep down you’re trying to protect me from the things you fear the most—rejection, abandonment, external criticism, and other psychological threats.These pieces are not set in stone. Sometimes I need to stop and ask myself: how would I want to be treated if I were having a tough time? If I were mired in fear and anxiety?  When I respond to my inner critic, this is me responding to a part of myself. So it’s my responsibility to treat myself how I want to be treated.What do you think about this and how do you deal with your inner critic? I would love to hear your experience so feel free to leave a comment.Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash