We all have the inner critic, but does our inner critic have us? Robert Masters
This question reveals a vital truth. The power of the inner critic is not in its accuracy or validity but in our unquestioned belief in its certainty. It is so much a part of our inner landscape we mistake the inner critic voice for our own. The inner critic may feel like us, and even sound like us, but what is important to note is it is not the whole of who we are. By undoubtedly believing the inner critic and its directives we lose the power of choice because, when fused with judgment, we lose the quality of real discernment. The inner critic is truly only as powerful as the energy we give it.
Locating the inner critic
Creating an inner critic journal is a great way to locate it. Make sure to separate from the inner critic by noting,
The inner critic says… rather than, I am, or I tell myself.
We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. So the first step to working with the inner critic is beginning to notice its presence. The inner critic can be elusive at first. Like elevator music in our head, it has become such a persistent presence in our inner lives we have numbed to its melody. Frameworks like awareness and mindfulness can create a space to begin to become more cognizant of the habitual thoughts that remind us of its presence. An observant view gives the benefit of defusing the situation or feelings in such a way that perception is gained. Awareness is a space of fluid curiosity and pause that is neither grasping nor pushing away. Additionally, from this witness perspective, there can be an empowering shift to create space and question the critic’s validity.
Perhaps you are already quite clear on what your inner critic sounds like. Mine is quite demeaning and often uses a lot of judgment and shame to get the job done. It loves to kick me right in the limitation. Perhaps your critic and the accompanying thoughts are more manipulative than shaming, more sarcastic that fearful or more mean than demanding. The main point is, though the inner critic assumes many guises, it always tries to keep you small with the hope it will keep you safe.
I hear it…. Now what?
From a coaching perspective, most often our clients come to us because they seek change, and inherent to the process of change is tension. Any kind of transformation involves navigating the tension of habitual safety and the pull to evolve and grow. The inner critic often emerges when we venture out of our comfort zone with the reminder to play it safe. Thus, it can often impede progress with its judgmental or fearful declarations. So learning to work with the inner critic is a vital part of helping our clients realize their intention to change.
Coaching, by definition, is an inclusive rather than exclusive process. It presupposes clients have the answers they seek. It is so helpful to apply this same principle when working with our clients and their inner critics. Thus, the first step in the process is helping our clients gain awareness of the inner critic voice. Contrary to popular belief, there is great value in observing and tracking the inner critic.
- It can point us to the edited parts of ourselves that are asking for integration.
- It can lead us right to the limiting, and often unconscious, beliefs that most require reframing.
- It can reveal feelings that have been long since buried or numbed.
- It can demonstrate how we give our power away, so we can have the opportunity to get it back.
- It can allow us to cultivate real courage by challenging our fear.
Inner Critic Exercise as suggested by Robert Augusts Masters
My inner critic is….
Its message is…
My usual response is…
My feelings are…
What I am most afraid of is….
I feel most powerless before the Inner Critic when…
A voice or message from my past evident in the Inner Critic is…
How old I feel when the Inner Critic is the harshest…
I most readily believe the Inner Critic when…
It can give us the opportunity to embrace our imperfections and claim authenticity.
Though loud and demanding, becoming aware of the inner critic is an important step to clearing it. With our clients, and with ourselves, we can excavate the inner landscape to find what most requires healing.
There is a thread of similarity revealed as we look deeply at the inner critic. The criticism, the doubt, the self-judgment and the limiting beliefs are all different shades of the same energy; fear. Yet, awareness perspective opens another extremely important door. The gift of becoming the witness is expanding perception to see a bigger picture and new possibilities. The very fact that the “self” is observing the self, reveals a truth that we are vastly more than what we think we are. In other words, watching the critic implies we are “other” than it. Yet, what is that other self? What emerges is an opening and a new possibility that we are more than the story that has been running for so long. In this pregnant pause of awareness we can begin to hear the whispers of a new voice. This voice is different than the inner critic because it is not based in fear and protection but based in love and expansion. Call it our true self, our higher self or our divine self. This is the inner calling of potential, of evolution, of change and of growth. So much of the work with our clients and ourselves is not done by declaring war on the inner critic, or by denying its existence–for war will never bring us to peace, and denial will never take us to truth–but instead, we simply learn to turn down the volume of the fearful critic by turning up the voice of love.
What does the voice of love sound like? It is quite different from the inner critic…
- It is unconditional because it is not based on perfection but acceptance and gentle improvement.
- Its intention is to seek truth and healing rather than stay in denial - even if that truth is challenging.
- It is assertive and has a low tolerance for disrespect because love knows what it deserves.
- It is accountable and claims responsibility without demeaning criticism, punishment or blame.
- It is kind, understanding, supportive and compassionate and uses praise to get the job done rather than condemnation or judgment.
- It strives for inner authenticity and wholeness rather than requiring outside validation.
- It focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses.
- It is curious rather than fearful.
- It encourages change and transformation rather than staying in habitual limiting situations.