Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Your Inner Critic is a Liar

Have you noticed that voice in your head that criticizes every thought, emotion, action, and experience? Have you heard it saying that you will fail…that your [appearance, job, intelligence, abilities, etc.] are not good enough…that you’re wrong and bad? That voice is your inner critic. It drones on-and-on all day, and is a master at spewing destructive lies and abuses at us. Yet we continue to listen, and worse: believe.

Have you found it hard to hear or believe positive compliments and kudos from others? We’re less likely to give them priority over the garbage we repeat to ourselves continuously. When we look at our achievements and our own true beauty, we question it or begin tearing it down so that we can return to those beliefs that we are inadequate and flawed. “Yeah, but…” is one phrase we mutter.

Some believe the inner critic is our friend, while others would argue it’s the enemy. Picture the devil and the angel on each shoulder – they are actually two sides of the same inner critic. One wants to tear us down, while the other claims it wants to protect us. We formed this angel/devil when we were young as a way to shield us from criticism and preempt anything that may hurt us or cause us discomfort.

The problem is that over our lives, we build up far more damaging “protections” and criticisms that do more harm than good to our self-esteem and beliefs about what we are capable of being/doing/having. The inner critic keeps us in our heads (criticizing and evaluating), deters us from taking risks, and pulls us out of being present and able to make conscious choices that are based on our values and our true nature.

This true nature I speak of is what we have forgotten (or deny) about ourselves because we’ve been pushed and pulled and torn down (inside and out) for so long. The truth is we are whole, complete, resourceful, and perfect just as we are. What did you just say to yourself when reading that statement? “That’s not true” or “Sounds nice, but…” or perhaps “He doesn’t know how screwed up I really am.” There goes that inner critic again attacking you, my statement, and maybe even me for saying them.

So what do we do about it? For years, I have done a lot of work with “inner critic” on my own and with clients. There are many books and tools for dealing with the demons, but I have found one text to be fantastically useful: Taming Your Gremlin, by Dr. Rick Carson. The book focuses on helping you “get out of your own way” by learning to tame the little gruesome creatures in your mind.

Carson uses the word “taming” not “eliminating” because the Gremlins don’t actually go away. However, with practice, we have the ability to learn how to manage them. Gremlin-taming begins with “simply noticing” that they are there and learning to “play with options” for dealing with them.

Incorporating some of Carson’s material, here are a few suggestions for approaching this process of dealing with your inner critic / Gremlins:
  1. Build Awareness. Pay attention to the chatter – which will likely be loud, repetitive, and pervasive when you first begin shining a light on it. Try to separate yourself from the statements. Remember: you are not the Gremlin. Do your best to listen, but try not to indulge it by believing what it is saying. The goal is to be present to them in the moment, and to not engage or fight. Rather, to just hear it and acknowledge: “Ah yes, there it goes again.” I sometimes add: “Thanks for sharing.”
  2. Name Them. I recommend writing down what your Gremlins are saying (in their exactly language) so that you can start naming them. At first, you may feel you have dozens, but after a while you’ll start noticing themes. You likely have about 6-10 different buckets you could put the statements into. Take the sting out of them by finding some creative names for them, like “The ‘You Suck and Everyone Knows it’ Gremlin.” For each Gremlin: write a description for (including gender, sound of voice, key characteristics), list some of the common criticisms, and if it helps, draw a picture of their ugliness. By naming them, you can say to yourself things like: “My Money Gremlin was attacking me when I was paying my bills today,” or “My ‘You’re Going to Fall Flat on Your Face’ Gremlin didn’t want me to take that risk.”
  3. Tell the Truth. I suggest you create an “Awesome Me” description for yourself so you have something to counter the lies. This is what you know in your heart of hearts to be true about you when you are your best self – your abilities, your fantastic personality traits, your values, etc. Again, this is what you know is true, not what you wish was true. Go full out and give yourself some credit. Get creative with the name so that it resonates with you. Some have called it: Kick Ass Brian, Tara Full Throttle, and Anna Flavor.
  4. Create Affirmations. We have heard a lot about affirmations, and I do believe in them. However, the way I approach these statements is to create phrases that I know to be true (like Awesome Me), in words that is in my own style. The more they feel true and real to you, the more they will resonate when you repeat them to counter the Gremlins. If they are too “fluffy” or “fix it” in language and tone, they may feel flat and artificial and won’t empower you.
  5. Consciously Choose Your Response. After becoming more aware that the inner critic is chattering, you can start to “play with options.” When in the moment of hearing your Gremlins, take a breath and choose whether you want to believe the Gremlin or not, and then choose an action/response. For example, you can indulge the Gremlins (try setting a time limit for how long you will do this), you can fight them (which just feeds them and is not very effective), you can deny their lies as false (with an affirmation or reminding yourself of your “awesomeness”), or you can simply thank them for sharing (defusing them by not giving them power), etc. Creating a consistent meditation ritual also helps.
Remember: This process of dealing with your inner critic requires practice. You must remember that it takes time and patience… and kindness toward yourself. You won’t be perfect, taming won’t come overnight, and the voices won’t completely go away. However, you can lessen their ability to derail and unravel you if you can continue to practice paying attention, being present, and consciously choosing your responses.

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