During one of her classes, she asked us to think about our inner critic. We all have a little voice in our heads that dispenses advice and cautions us. For well-adjusted people, it’s normal; it guides us to make good decisions. It is the voice of our instinct; we could even say it’s the Holy Spirit. This is our trusted mentor and benevolent companion.
But this is not the voice I’m referring to. It’s that other little voice in our heads that preserves our negative habits. It feeds our suspicions, neuroses and self-doubts. This is not at all helpful; it prevents us from truly living in joy and freedom. The big problem? We treat this voice as our internal guide because everything our inner critic says feels like the truth.
The inner critic, true to its name, is critical. Every self-defeating thought you have is its life’s work. It speaks in absolutes: “You’ll never win at Scrabble,” “You always stutter in public.” It also tamps down initial excitement about a new person, event or idea, keeping us stuck in a rut. But it feels familiar – even comfortable – which is why the inner critic feel like our instinct.
In thinking about how much this voice guides daily life, it suddenly occurred to me: the inner critic feeds the Relationship X-Ray Machine. Think about it: wouldn’t that same voice that criticizes you tend to criticize others as well? When you start a list of faults about your date, your cynical, neurotic inner critic is taking over.
Of course, some people we date simply can’t be trusted. But when dating suddenly seems like a bad idea, it may be the internal critic taking over. This is what keeps us stuck in the rut of singlehood, unable to make meaningful connections. Maybe we don’t send an emotigram or click on a profile. That inner voice, like a critical friend or parent, often sabotages us, making us thinking we’re being kept safe.
But we can’t often tell the difference between our internal guide and our internal critic. How can we make sure we try new things but still stay safe?
Certainly this isn’t easy. But my hero and mentor showed me the way.
First, recognize when the saboteur speaks to us. Often, I heard my initial excitement (“It’s a beautiful day, I should get out for a long walk!” “I should join my friends tonight, we always have fun!” “That nice guy asked me out, I can’t wait!”) followed by thoughts from my inner critic (“I can’t go out for a walk, it’s too early.” “I should go home, I have that report due next week.” “I have nothing flattering to wear, I think I’ll say no.”).
I also heard thoughts that, for so long, felt like the truth: “I won’t ever meet the right person.” “I always lose my keys, what an airhead!” “I’ll never find full-time work.” And the ever present: “Nobody likes me when I’m overweight.” My internal critic works so well because it uses my past as proof that these thoughts are the truth. It doesn’t recognize growth and development; in fact, it’s responsible for hindering it.
Another way our internal saboteur works on us is with relationships. We may hold back from getting close to others because we feel that while dating, we’re on our best behavior. But once our dates get to know us, they might not accept our true selves. The inner critic is an expert at making us feel like a fraud.
Once we’ve recognized our self-saboteur, we need to turn that internal monologue into a dialogue. Prayer is very helpful with this. If we simply tell that voice how much God loves us as we are, eventually that voice will become quieter. It will also hush if the positive affirmations negate each thought: “So what if it’s early? I’ll walk anyway.” “I will definitely find work when the time is right,” “I can just buy a new outfit for my date.” Another way to talk back to the critic within is with simple logic: No one can predict the future. That automatically shuts down the “you will always/never … “.
The final step is to recognize how much our internal critic helped us when we were young. That voice kept us out of trouble and guided us toward the right behaviors. We need to show this part of ourselves gratitude and compassion. And then we can simply say a peaceful goodbye: “Thank you for guiding me as a child. But now I need to move on. I can manage on my own.” Think of it as a break-up in a toxic relationship.
Keep in mind that this process is part of loving ourselves, just as we are, just as God loves us.
I hope that anyone whose thoughts are dominated by their inner critic are able to embrace self-love and move onto a life of joy in new experiences. God bless you all!