How do you respond to your inner critic?

P1000321Somebody said to me, “Oh I couldn’t meditate, I’ve got too many thoughts going round in my head”.

And while I knew what she meant, I felt sad. I felt sad because that is why we meditate, to still those voices, those voices that say:

I can’t do this.

Everyone else can do it, but I can’t.

Everyone else goes through life happily, doing what they want, but that’s not me.

Who are you to think you can do that?

I have an inner critic too. Today mine is saying things like:

You can’t paint – that looks like the work of a six-year old.

Not everyone was happy with the class I taught today – I must have done something wrong.

My home is untidy – I have time enough to tidy it, I must be lazy.

My hair is a mess.

I am overweight, obviously everyone thinks I am lazy and undisciplined in my eating.

I could go on, but I’m getting a little uncomfortable now sharing all the personal things that my inner critic is telling me!
And that’s just today – tomorrow might bring new uncomfortable revelations from the voice in my head.

Maybe you have an inner critic that expresses self-criticism, frustration or disapproval. Maybe you call yours something different: your judge, a gremlin, an nagging voice, your demon. Usually they are derogatory terms.

There is an abundance of advice around, telling us how how to silence our inner critic.

Some say ignore the voice, or tell it to go away.

Some say we should write it all down in a journal

Some advise us to fight the inner critic

Some people find inspiring quotations help, or stories of people who have overcome great difficulties in life

Another approach is to re-frame the shaming thought into the third person.  So instead of saying, ‘I’m useless at public speaking / cooking / writing stories, say instead: You can do this.  You can talk well in public.  You can cook a delicious meal. You can write an interesting story.

And I’m sure you have found other ways.

I think it’s helpful to realise that our inner critic has our best interests at heart. It’s trying to help us, albeit somewhat clumsily. It might be trying to motivate me, or it might be reminding me of things that were said me in the past – even years ago. It might even be worried that I’m on the verge of changing parts of my life, parts that it’s used to and it doesn’t like change, and it wants to keep me on the old path that it’s familiar with, even if that path doesn’t serve me any more.

For me a kinder way of approaching this is to acknowledge that this voice is not criticising the whole of me, but a part of me. I find it much easier to say to myself:

“A part of me says I can’t paint”

“A part of me is unhappy with the way I taught some of the class today”

“A part of me is concerned that I am lazy and undisciplined.”

And then I can spend some time with the part of me that is showing concern for me in this moment.  I actually don’t want to fight a part of me, I would rather show myself compassion, as I would with a friend or a child.

So the part of me that says I can’t paint, might be setting myself unachievably high standards; or it might be echoing things that have been said to me in the past; or it might be suggesting that I go to an art class; or it might be something else entirely.

You might try this for yourself.  Think of something that your inner critic tells you: for example, I can’t paint / I’m no good with computers / I’m scared of dogs / I hate flying.  And then turn it around so that you say to yourself:

A part of me is no good with computers.

Something in me is scared of dogs.

A part of me doesn’t like flying.

How does that feel now?

As we sit with this in Focusing, we can be compassionate with this part of ourselves and perhaps learn what it is wanting to protect us from, or is wanting to learn, or shake off. I don’t like to be harangued or told off by another person, so why would I want to do this to myself?

 

And so to the person who says “I can’t meditate”, I would encourage her to ask this part of herself what it is trying to tell her. It may be that meditation is right for her, or maybe not right now.  But to dismiss it so casually, when so many people benefit from practices such as these, is to cut off part of herself from something that might be a rich experience.

In Focusing we can use meditative techniques to bring to awareness uncomfortable thoughts.  In meditation we would let these thoughts pass by, and be curious about what our mind will dream up next.  In Focusing we can stay with a thought and use that curious part of ourselves to sense why that thought arises now.

And sometimes I can even smile at the tactics my inner critic uses.  At times she draws silly conclusions from one mistake I might have made, forgetting that I can learn from this.  

Focusing is for me the very best way I have found of listening to my inner critic, and has helped me recognise these parts of me that can be so hard on myself, (and I have written more about it here).  

If you would like support in this part of Focusing, or would just like to try Focusing for yourself, contact me.  We can speak face-to-face, on the phone and on Skype.  If you have never used Skype before, it’s easy to use and I can help you to set it up on your own computer.