By Kate Taylor
“What a stupid thing to say! What’s wrong with you? Everyone heard it, too. They’re all going to think you’re so weird. What a mess. You should just leave now…” Your inner critic
Does that sound familiar?
It does to me. That’s the doomful yammering of my inner critic, the one who dwells inside my head. If given the chance, this creep torments me with a running commentary on everything I do, say and even think. And of course, it deems everything I do, say and think faulty and deficient.
If you haven’t spent the past 20 years in a meditation cave, I’m guessing you know just what I’m talking about.
With the possible exception of a few enlightened yogis, we all have inner critics living inside our minds, psychology experts say. But if we want to lead happy, peaceful lives, they say, we must find ways to tame them.
The inner critic is a total buzzkill. Left unchecked, it chatters negatively about anything we’re doing. It badgers and nitpicks about the smallest trespasses and constantly reminds us of past failures. Driven by fear and the premise that we’re not good enough, it’s the harshest of judges.
And here’s the worst news about our abusive mental “roommates,” which is how author Michael Singer of “The Untethered Soul” describes our inner critics: they’re bad for our health.
When we criticize ourselves, experts say, our bodies respond the same way they would if someone else was tearing us down: with stress hormones. Those chemicals, which jolt us into fight or flight mode – cause unnecessary wear and tear on our bodies and nervous systems.
So how do we evict these creeps? Most of us would do it in a heartbeat, if only we could. Yet since we can’t – since our inner critics are part of us – how can we prevent them from driving us crazy and trampling our happiness?
At last, the good news: There are many effective methods of silencing the inner critic. And we’ve listed the best of them below.
The next time your nasty “roommate” decides to take your inventory, try some of these great tips:
- Ground yourself in the moment
Once your inner critic gets going, it can be hard to hit the brakes. You can easily get caught up in its painful spiral of critical thoughts. One self-attacking thought leads to another, and each thought’s more negative than the one before. You lose touch with the present moment. You beat yourself up for things you’ve done in the past. You fret about things that may never happen in the future.
It’s vital to stop the negativity-spiral before it gets out of control.
Here’s the most important trick for exiting the spiral: get out of your head. Keep yourself in the present moment by focusing on one simple physical sensation. For example, you could place your hand on an object, such as a table. Focus on how the object feels under your hand. Or give your attention to a smell or a sound in your environment.
By giving your full attention to something physical that is happening in the moment, you withdraw your attention from critical thoughts and bring yourself back to the present moment. Instantly, you’ll be in a healthier and more centered frame of mind.
- Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.
Pay attention to your inner monologue. Do you scold yourself, thinking thoughts like, “Wow, I can’t believe I said such a stupid thing!”
Consider this: would you say such a thing to a dear friend? Would you call your friend “stupid”? If you wouldn’t use that kind of language with someone you love, then don’t do it to yourself.
- Become aware of the inner critic’s voice.
Recognizing the inner critic’s voice can be tricky. After all, it can sound just like our voice. Examined closely, however, the difference is clear. The tone used by the inner critic tends to be markedly less kind than your own voice.
It can help visualize our inner critic as a Gremlin, troll or gargoyle. Something ugly but silly and manageable. You can even give your inner critic a name. It doesn’t matter which name we choose. Whether it’s “Fluffy” or “Clytemnestra,” it will help us distinguish which voice is speaking. That way, we can start calling it out when it starts calling us in.
- Learn to observe the inner critic’s voice without associating with it.
Once you do this, you’ll stop worrying about the inner critic’s words or scrambling to follow its lousy advice.
Instead, you’ll be able to relax and watch it go through its dramas without getting involved.
When you gain enough confidence, you can even let the inner critic’s chatter amuse you.
You can say “Hello Fluffy (or Clytemnestra), what crazy things are you going to say today?”
Or, “You’re slightly entertaining, but I need to let you go now.”
In this scenario, you have total control.
Once you can do this, you’re free. The inner critic may still show up from time to time, but the gig is up, and it can never trick you again. You simply won’t feel compelled to engage with it.
- Bolster your energy and spirits by being kind to someone.
If you find yourself struggling with your inner critic, call up or go see a friend in need of comfort or kindness. Listen to them with a full heart and help however you can.
Being kind to others lifts our spirits and fills us with inner strength, research shows. Next time you find yourself face to face with your inner critic, chances are the creep won’t stand a chance.