Many of us feel as though we are challenged daily by the voice inside our heads. This voice may tell us that we are not good enough, we are lazy and that no one could ever love us. It is a confusing process to hear, the way we talk to ourselves. Surely, if anyone were to offer us kindness, it would be…well…ourselves? Yet, often the opposite is the case and we may recognise that our strongest critic to any of the decisions we make, have made or will make may come from within.
It appears that most, if not all of us, have this very same voice. I prefer to call it the inner critic as it summarises pretty effortlessly the experience of ‘it’. The difference between people can be the volume with which one hears this voice. Some people’s inner critic can be deafening, whilst for others it appears to be more like an annoying fly that they can swat away every now and then. For those for whom it feels perpetually intrusive, it may be the case that, the inner critic can feel like a threat and a genuine obstacle to living the life that they want.
How do we approach this part of ourselves? It can feel hostile, angry and intimidating when we hear its domineering tone and with that the temptation may be to leave it alone as we feel we are powerless to change it. After all it is clearly the boss and in charge of what we do, it seems to make that pretty clear in the way it communicates!
However, is this really true? Is there really no movement or change to this part of us, or could we find some way to try to negotiate with it?
The first step like many things is recognising that the inner critic has become problematic and is impacting our way of being. Secondly, we may start to sense that, whilst it is a part of us, it is likely not all of who we are. Being able to dis-identify from it in some small way can be incredibly helpful. If this sounds like a challenge to do alone, that is understandable, it is a complicated process and it can be beneficial to work with a therapist who can support you in being able to do this.
Seeing your inner critic with this type of distance can also be necessary as a springboard to begin to understand why it is there at all and what purpose it serves. The inner critic can develop and become dominant for a few reasons and it is important that we start to understand it’s origins as a means to understand ourselves with more awareness and kindness.
However, irrespective of these origins, we are likely to come to see that although it may first appear as destructive, the inner critic is a lot more nuanced than that, and its purpose can often be to protect and keep us away from difficult feelings, that we assume may arise if we start to live as we truly wish to.
This process of understanding, which can be a result of psychotherapeutic work, can take time, as we may often find when we question or challenge the critic, it reacts with increasing hostility. The invitation may feel like we must back down, do as it wishes and keep our lives small to ensure the volume of the critic is kept low too. Yet, this need not be the case. We can continue to live as we feel is right and remember that the dialogue isn’t one way. The critic is a part of who we are, but not all of us and there is the opportunity to form a conversation with it.
This may sound all very strange, having a conversation in our heads, with ourselves. But, we all do this, likely every day, without even realising it. A part of us wants this and a part of us wants that. With awareness, therapy can support us in being able to engage in this dialogue with more thought and consideration and realise that whilst there is a part of us that wants to keep us safe and free from danger, we must also balance that with other parts of us that want to live differently.
The key to this, is that we don’t need to remove the inner critic to feel better and to live with more freedom. We instead are being called to understand this part of ourselves more. Only then do we stand a good chance at recognising that the critic exists for good reason, it gives voice to our fear which is helpful to hear. But hopefully with time, patience, readiness and support from a therapist we trust, we can also find a place of balance where we can hear more than just our fear, we can hear all parts of ourselves in connection with each other.