Who is this inner critic?

I’ve picked this topic for my first blog because wow, is my inner critic having a field day today! We are all having a continuous conversation with ourselves in our heads but we don’t stop to consider that we have a range of different “tones or voices”, until they are getting in our way. To be honest, nobody ever comes to counselling because their inner “cheerleader” is too perky and is getting annoying to be around. However, many of us are very aware of that negative “inner critic” that holds us back and is looking for ways to make that negative voice just disappear………. does this sound familiar to you?

If this is you, then I’m sorry to tell you that it just isn’t possible to silence this voice and make it go away. It annoyingly serves a purpose and the problem occurs when it gets a bit too zealous and out of control. However, what we can do is develop a different relationship with that inner critic so that we can listen, take what we need and move on with our lives. 

Sound good? Well, let’s have a look at this idea through my experiences and evolving partnership with my own inner critic…………… 

Image credit @worry_lines

What is it supposed to be doing for us then? 

The main job of our inner critic is to keep us safe and maintain the status quo wherever possible. It is actually very good at this job but it is very much a “jobsworth” about it and often doesn’t know when to stop! There is a big difference between “ooooo petting that tiger isn’t a good idea” and “should you join that conversation with people you don’t know very well?”. However, that negative inner voice treats both situations the same and this really isn’t always very helpful and can feel incredibly overwhelming….. 

So let’s put this into context using with my own inner critic who is currently muttering in the back of my head the following: “you’ll sound silly”, “what makes you think that anyone will read this?”, “nobody will want to work with you after you publish this”, “what on earth do you know about this topic”, etc…….. You get the idea – like I said, it really is working overtime today!!!!

If I ignore the words, and concentrate on the feelings underneath these statements, then I know my inner voice is feeling worried, scared and low in confidence. This is actually very understandable but is the worst-case scenario actually death and disaster? Ummmm, no it really isn’t! But it is helpful to recognise that I’m bit fearful about putting myself out there and being vulnerable talking about my own inner critic. This doesn’t feel too great but it gives me something to work with instead of running away from…………. Ok, inner critic – job done, I’m still safe!

Who do they sound like? 

I often ask clients who their inner critic sounds like when they make an appearance in the counselling room. This is a strange question but the intention is for us to pause and listen instead of trying to block them out. Sometimes it sounds like a critical family member/teacher/boss but the main answer I get back is “I think it might be me” – this makes complete sense now that we’ve recognised that our inner dialogue has a cast of different voices that all have different jobs.

So, who does your inner critical voice sound like? If it does sound like someone you know, then maybe this gives something to explore, understand and potentially do some healing. My own inner critic doesn’t really sound like anyone in particular but I do recognise some of the things that is says have come from a combination of people and key moments in my life. 

Once we have an idea about that voice (be it ours or anyone else’s) then this gives us the tools to be able to work with (as opposed against) our inner critic……….. 

Give them a name! 

This one gets a laugh from clients but once we name something it starts to become something with a tangible personality that we can interact with. However, it is how we do this that makes the difference and sets the tone for how our relationship with our inner critic will develop. So I encourage some playfulness and it can take a while to arrive at a name that suits the personality and tone of your inner critic. 

Mine is lovingly called “Doubting Doris” and it has been really hard to write about her as an “it” so far! She hasn’t liked it either, and she has been giving me some grief over that, because we have a fairly honest and well-developed relationship. Doris has a little old lady vibe going on and I imagine her looking at me over her glasses but she also likes to “fuss” and wag her finger at me a lot. I used to be fairly nervous of her before she was named but now I imagine her like an eccentric older person who sits in cafes talking about the “good old days”. I smile, know it’s not worth arguing with her but roll my eyes when she isn’t looking and I can be often be heard muttering “all right, calm down Doris” ……….. you get the idea! 

You’ll hopefully notice that I sound a little bit fond of my inner critic’s persona because overtime my relationship with her has evolved. I’ve to got a place where I’ve accepted that she is in my life but she is not the main character or has the strength of voice that she had before. It is possible for you to develop a relationship with your inner critic on your terms with some time, effort, patience and sometimes the help of a therapist. 

Listen without judgment or fear

Right, so we now know that critical voice is just one of many in our head and we’ve given them a name and persona to interact with. Are they as scary and threatening as they were when we felt they were something swooping in to attack us? Hopefully not! But they still have the ability to negatively impact us and we can help tackle that by beginning to listen to them in a empathic and compassionate way. Sounds a bit counsellor speak now but let’s try this using my example…….. 

Doris is not overly happy about me dipping my toe into blogging and if I’m honest she has been whinging about it and stopping me trying for a at least a year! She initially laughed because I didn’t have the first clue about blog writing (style, content, visuals, etc) but also importantly how to get it on my website. It’s taken until now to reassure Doris that it is ok to be a beginner that learns on the job and remind her that we are very resourceful with lots of skills from our previous career in teaching. Now that we’ve actually started the process she has moved on to the “what ifs” round it being rubbish, people hating it and worst-case scenario of getting struck off from practising by the BACP. I’m listening to her but again reminding her that nobody will die and her incredibly creative range of worst-case scenarios are really not that likely to happen. The worse realistic negative is that we put the effort in to writing something that nobody will read and there is actually a greater range of possible positives that we could (but won’t) go into here! 

 Soothe and move on

Doris is still grumbling but she feels less convinced by what she is saying and is now coming along on the off chance she can say “I told you so” later. But we can both now hear my perky inner cheerleader (who needs a name) setting up the party and adding publishing a blog to the list of brave new things that we have done.  Doris is not fond of the cheerleader (because she gets a bit enthusiastic and overfocused) but what we have achieved is some balance between the voices of my inner dialogue.

Most importantly, I am also aware that if Doris is right then that is ok and I have the tools and resilience to deal with whatever comes our way………………… 

Conclusion

So in conclusion, we have learnt the following points about the Doubting Doris in our lives: 

  • They are just one of many voices that are part of our continuous internal dialogue – we are aware of them more because we notice things that make us unhappy.
  • They can be too effective of keeping us safe and what we need is to feel able to listen or dismiss their feedback as suits us.
  • Giving them a name and persona takes away some of their power – humour can be an effective tool against fear.

 

Do you struggle with the Doubting Doris in your life? Click below to explore how counselling can help you gain a more balanced relationship with your inner critic……………..  

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