Kristin Armstrong on Quieting Your Inner Critic
“Once we have a sense of separation between our Self and the Critic, then we have some room to shift.”
The voice inside our head, we all have one. Some writers have referred to the incessant inner chatterbox as the “Roommate,” or the “Critic.” Synul Lounging on a sofa in our mind, armchair quarterbacking us as we attempt to live and work and love. Chipping away at our self-confidence with accusations, sometimes a whisper and other times quite loud:
Who do you think you are?
Not good enough. Smart enough. Young enough. Old enough. Good-looking enough. Skinny enough. Strong enough. Talented enough. Brave enough.
If they see the real you, it’s over.
You are not important. Not worth it.
You are too much. You are not enough.
You are forgettable, left out, not lovable.
You’re a hot mess.
You’ll never get it right.
You will end up alone.
Sometimes this voice echoes fears with long roots, tethered to childhood hurts and abandonments. Sometimes it repeats unkind statements from inept parenting, teaching, preaching or coaching. Sometimes the origin is an offhand remark that felt more like a backhand. Sometimes it torments us with insults from a toxic relationship. Sometimes it picks on us when we look in the mirror or scroll through photos. Sometimes it bullies us into missing out; it’s safer to not go or try.
The Critic knows precisely what will injure us, undermine us, make us small just when we need to rise. It will taunt us into sabotaging careers, relationships and best intentions for personal growth and transformation. It will multiply malignant cells and generate fraud complex and imposter syndrome.
One of the Critic’s favorite tactics is comparison. The Critic goads us into comparing our looks, our finances, our relationships and our abilities. It points out how another person has it easier, better or simply has it all together. The Critic loves social media, a perfect tool to foster comparison. Well, look at her in a bikini, you don’t look anything like that. Wow, that looks like an amazing vacation; too bad the only place you’ve gone lately is the grocery store. Oh look how sweet, another anniversary; meanwhile you’ve just spent another year alone. Look how successful their children are, now that’s what good parenting looks like.
No one would ever speak to a friend the way they (aka the Critic) speak to themselves in their head. If they did, they wouldn’t have any friends. And yet somehow it’s perfectly permissible, even normal, to tolerate this ongoing internal barrage.
How can we get the Critic to be quiet?
“How can we get the Critic to be quiet?
The first step is acknowledging that the Critic exists. Until we are conscious of the voice of the Critic, we believe that the stream of thoughts is real, that it is what we think. We believe that the voice of the Critic is our voice, the truth of who we are. Until we have some sense of separation between our Self and the voice, we take this crap at face value and internalize it. Then we regurgitate it over and over again, fulfilling the concept that a thought we think often enough becomes a belief. Once it’s a belief, we accept it as truth, even if it is completely flawed thinking to begin with. And finally, when we believe something to be truth, we look for confirmation of that belief and will adjust our perception to support it — whether it’s real or not. And so it goes.
If you think I’m making this up, consider the fact that entire nations have succumbed to a similar effect — hello, Nazi Germany.
Once we have a sense of separation between our Self and the Critic, then we have some room to shift. Enter the power of choice. I can choose to think a thought that feels better than that, even moderately better, and then follow the upward momentum with another thought that feels slightly better than that, and so on. I can choose to question if a statement is actually true, or not necessarily so, or not always so. I can choose to take something personally, or consider the possibility that it may have nothing to do with me whatsoever. I can choose if something is relevant to me or reflective of me now, or if it’s just old junk thoughts that no longer apply.
Once exposed, the Critic is recognized as the naked emperor, a bluffer, a fraud. Soon enough the voice gets quieter, then rarely heard at all. And all the energy that the Critic once consumed can be repurposed for creativity and courage.
When we can let go of not being enough, we can start inhabiting all that we already are.