An Inner Critic is often an active, vocal member of the community of characters that exists inside each of us. Despite the Inner Critic’s starring role, it can still take some time and practice to distinguish its voice. This aspect of our selves has been providing such a continuous running commentary for so long that it has become an entrenched part of our mental clutter. Once we do start to stand apart from the Inner Critic; to recognize its voice, to focus on its tone and hear its messages, we may well find that the Inner Critic can be a formidable adversary to our personal growth. Very few of us, are blessed to have naturally constructive, compassionate Inner Critics. Mostly, they are tough, opinionated, self-righteous, unforgiving, harsh and meddlesome judges with an acute attention on everything that we do or don’t do; everything we say or don’t say. They are often unkind, disrespectful and insulting. In some cases, they are downright abusive.
A lack of self-awareness can lead to the Inner Critic hijacking our mental space, crippling self-esteem and actively hindering progress towards realizing our full potential. While the Inner Critic has a role to play in our Community Inside, it is not its job to take over the running of our show – our life. Psychologists believe that the Inner Critic is so powerful because it arises unconsciously in childhood in response to the constant shepherding, directing, restricting, commanding and correcting from parents, teachers and other caregivers. We absorb this all in order to become self-regulating, which is a desirable goal. However, the extent, intensity and quality of regulation can suggest to us early on that we are innately “wrong”, and that we need constant policing in order to avoid shame, rejection and disapproval. So instead of growing into adulthood with a wise, watchful, confident Self-Regulator in the background, we find we have at the forefront of our psyches, a zealous, hyper-vigilant Inner Critic nagging at us incessantly, putting us down and preventing us from being the most we can be.
Although, we may experience our Inner Critic as troublesome, even damaging, it is important not to make an enemy of it. After all, it is an aspect of our self that arose in service, and making war on it will seriously disrupt inner peace. Even the abusive Inner Critic started out with the aim of being helpful – Inner Critics are resolute about protecting us from experiences of shame, rejection and disapproval. It is important too, to recognize and acknowledge the strengths of our Inner Critics – qualities such as the capacity to focus, to speak out fearlessly, to be heedful, to protect, to pay attention to detail, to be steadfast, purposeful and persevering.
A constructive way of dealing with and peacefully disengaging the Inner Critic is to creatively visualize a meeting and a conversation. You can allow your Inner Critic to take on a form – don’t direct this or impose any image – let it present itself. You may have a sense of a presence; see a light, colour or symbol – or your Inner Critic may take on the appearance of someone or some character you recognize. Accept this. Start the conversation by acknowledging that you know your Inner Critic has been trying to help you and protect you. Thank your Inner Critic for all its service to you. Explain that you are in a new place of consciousness and you have become more aware of all its efforts on your behalf. Say to it that to move forward constructively and productively in your life, you now need a different kind of service. Request that your critic consider a transformation into a wise, watchful and confident Self-Regulator who only speaks, with great respect, when it is absolutely necessary. Tell your Inner Critic, that as of now, you are sending it to the beach to take a well-deserved break, to relax and ponder its transformation, and that you look forward to its greater contribution in time to come. Then really send your Inner Critic to the beach. See it go there. Leave it be.
From time to time, events may arise which prompt the Inner Critic back into its old service. As soon as you encounter it again on your centre-stage, remind it that it is off-duty until further notice - its critical service has genuinely come to an end; firmly and kindly send it back to the beach to have a fine time.
You may find that with the Inner Critic on the beach, you feel a strange gap. If the gap feels yawning and a little disturbing rather than peaceful, it could mean that you need a supportive character from your Community Inside to step forward. This might be an aspect of your self that can encourage and sustain; it may be an aspect that can coach and guide; or it may be a warrior aspect that can perform temporary peace-keeping duties… Ask yourself what it is you need, and let the answer come to you without forcing it. When you know, ask a character from the Community Inside with those capacities to step forward. Hold a meeting, state your needs and engage. All potential exists in you already. It’s a matter of conscious engagement with your greater self that brings what you need into service.
When it comes to personal growth, raising consciousness and realizing your potential what you need in service are the best friend, champion, fan, mentor, coach, guide and warrior aspects of your self. You do not need criticism. No one ever truly improved because they were criticized – but many have achieved the spectacular because they were encouraged.