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Healing the Inner Critic

March 1, 2019

What is it?
The inner critic is something that most people can relate to. It is that internal voice in our head that judges, berates and criticises ourselves, other people and the world. It can operate at varying degrees ranging from an occasional whisper of negativity to a compulsive and relentless tirade. The inner critic often has an aggressive approach which could even be described as a form of violence. It drives our feelings of shame and at its worst can lead us to suffer from mental health issues including depression and anxiety.

Where does it come from?
There are two main sources for the inner critic. The first is based upon all the negative and harsh messages we received in our childhood. From a critical parent to a cruel bully or teacher, these messages land inside of us at a deep level when we are so vulnerable and have a fragile sense of self. Over time we then turn these messages in on ourselves, repeating them and their variations to ourselves over and over again. Until the voice inside our head sounds like our own voice…but it is not. It is the combined voices of all of those who have judged and criticised us. We simply then do to ourselves what was done to us.

The second source for creating the inner critic relates to the first and builds upon it. So, when we have received a lot of judgement and criticism growing up, we naturally have identity issues, lacking a strong sense of who we are and our own self-worth. We are therefore more prone to judging ourselves quickly and harshly in our minds, thus reinforcing our low self-worth.

What can we do about it?
The first stage to challenging our inner critic is to begin to question our thoughts, not just blindly believe that they are true. Negative thoughts are like bullies and hunt in packs. The pack leader will kick off with a bullying thought like ‘Hey Tony, you’re an idiot for saying that!’ And then if you don’t question the thought and its validity and truth, the pack leader heads back to the gang and says, ‘we’ve got a right one here, let’s go!’ And armed with their weaponry of cruel words, the whole brutal pack descends upon you to attack, ‘…and by the way Tony you’re also fat and you’re stupid..’ etc.

This is where personal enquiry plays a key role in healing the inner critic. Writing down your thoughts as they pop up and really questioning them and their truth. The Author Byron Katie in her book ‘Loving what is’ offers 4 key questions to support this process of enquiry – Asking yourself:

1) Is it true?
2) How can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3) What happens when you believe this thought?
4) Who would you be without it?

Writing down these simple and yet profound questions and their answers, can transform your thought processes and emotional reactions. It’s like taking a step back to observe and question the inner workings of your mind from a more neutral and impartial perspective.

Does the Inner Critic ever leave us completely?
To truly recover from the relentless grip of our inner critic in the long term, I believe we must process all that led to its birth. By this I mean starting to join the dots as to where these thoughts and their ‘siblings’ came from originally. Our past. As we deepen into our personal enquiry, we ask further questions to ‘follow the trail’ back to the source. So, for example if one of our inner critic thoughts is ‘you’re useless!’, we need to pause and ask ourselves ‘when and where in my life was, I first made to feel useless?’ ‘Who planted the seed of this negative belief inside of me?’

The next courageous step is to allow ourselves the time and space to grieve this part of us that was made to feel and believe they were useless. We dare to allow all our emotions to be felt and released through the wisdom of our body and tears. We stay with ourselves (self-parenting) as we express our anger, sadness and fear about what happened to us to create these negative and destructive thoughts and beliefs. This is known as ‘grief work’.

The final stage of healing is to then begin to accept and integrate those parts of us that have felt useless, not good enough, broken etc. Once we have grieved them, we can begin to learn how to love them. This of course is a process – a moment by moment, day by day choice. This loving acceptance over time leads to the shout of the inner critic becoming a whisper, until one day you notice, it’s rarely, if ever, around anymore and even if it does return, the visitation is brief. You feel compassion for yourself and the inner critic, without buying into its nonsense and quickly and quietly, it leaves.

And then one beautiful day as you are living your life, you notice those negative voices in your head simply aren’t there anymore. This is when you know you have returned to your wholeness. To Love. To Freedom.

Donna Lancaster, Co-founder of The Bridge Retreat

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