By Ashley Reichel, Holistic Health Coach
She’s become loud, opinionated, judgmental, and downright unrelenting and I’m giving her a break- in fact, I’m kicking her out. When I say “she” I’m referring to that inner critic that has taken up far too much space in my head. I’ve noticed her pushing herself to the forefront and speaking for me to the point I’m not sure I recognize who I am.
Have you ever looked back on a conversation you have had? As your inner critic pushes you to agonizingly replay an experience, you think to yourself, “That wasn’t me, that’s not who I am or what I want to sound like.” Perhaps in this moment, your inner critic was speaking for you, as strong inner critics often do. Though inner critics can sometimes be seen as valuable, helpful, or even responsible for our successes, they most commonly fill us with fear. Fear that we are not good enough, that we will be devalued or even seen as undesirable. When we rely on and give validation to our inner critic though, we often find ourselves defeated and pouring from an empty cup because nothing will ever feel good enough. We give our inner critic all the power and let them control who and how we exist in our own lives.
It may be unrealistic to “kick out” or silence my inner critic because well, negative self-talk is not wrong, in fact it is very much natural and human. What I can do though, and what I urge my fellow self-critical friends to do is trade in self-criticism for self-compassion. When we can change our inner monologue, we can begin to see benefits not only to our individual health, but also to that of those around us. When we are more accepting and flexible with ourselves, we in turn are more accepting and flexible with others.
Embracing self-compassion can look like:
Stepping outside ourselves. When we look at a critical statement as if it were being said to a loved one, (or anyone for that matter), we can see more objectively how it sounds. Does it sound cruel, damaging, or abusive? You can see the statement more clearly and identify why you may be feeling negative or doubtful, and ask yourself what a more productive statement might look and feel like. Treat yourself as if you were a loved one; how would you ask them to treat their insecurities and fears?
Grace. Allow yourself some grace in the face of failure. Failure is bound to happen, and when we allow ourselves to fail without punishment, we also allow ourselves the space to learn and grow. We don’t have to fear failure or the critical eye of others, but embrace it as an opportunity to learn about what we need and want from ourselves to feel good no matter the outcome of a given situation.
Leading with our hearts. We often ignore our opinions, our feelings, and our desires in the hopes that we can please others. This often looks like overthinking and making decisions based on what things will look like to others vs. how we truly feel about something. When we honor ourselves, our hearts, and our instincts without prejudice, we can embrace certain confidence and peace that comes from carrying out what is important and meaningful to ourselves.
Mindfulness. Be able to acknowledge and sit with uncomfortable and negative feelings. Acknowledge that they are there, and get curious as to why we feel the way we do about them. Be able to manage and balance our emotions without letting them consume and overwhelm us. This might even look like adopting a breathing technique or meditation practice that allows us to acknowledge, feel, and change our perspective without reacting or ruminating.
Self-criticism fills us with the “shoulds” and the “coulds” triggering our fight or flight response, that when activated for too long leads to anxiety, depression, insecurity, and self-doubt. Though self-criticism is unlikely to disappear from our lives entirely, giving yourself a break from its pressures by embracing self-compassion and accepting ourselves, (flaws and all), is a great place to start. When our inner critic starts to take up too much space, treat it as a red flag that is time for some self-care, to spend a little extra time releasing expectation, and honoring and caring for the you that already exists!