By Dr. Karen Bender
Meet Your Harsh Inner Critic
What happens inside your head when you do not reach your goals, or you fall short of the expectations set by yourself or others? If you are like many people, you are met with a harsh voice that is often brutally unkind and almost impossible to satisfy rather than an encouraging voice of compassion. This inner critical voice is sure to point out all your flaws and mistakes. It never fails to make us feel ashamed and unworthy of love whenever we do not measure up to often impossibly high standards. This inner critical voice may be so outspoken and loud that you may not even recognize it as the voice of one mere perspective. This voice may have gotten louder and louder over time to the point it may seem like the only voice, the only truth.
Have you ever wondered why we have such a harsh inner voice? Psychologists theorize that this voice developed to protect us. A way to direct our behavior so that we do not make the same mistakes again or make choices that would lead to rejection and social isolation. This need to be safe within the context of a group is so critical in the survival of highly cooperative and social humans, it is no wonder this critical voice has become the dominate narrative in many people’s minds.
A Healthier Alternative
Fortunately, there is an alternative and more effective voice, the voice of self-compassion. This voice is kind and understanding. It acknowledges your suffering and seeks to offer comfort instead of shame. Imagine it as the voice of a dear friend, offering you understanding and sympathy. Research has shown that most people find it easier to offer compassion to a friend or loved one than they do themselves. Interestingly, research has also shown that when we practice extending kindness to ourselves, the outcome is better. When we offer ourselves compassion, we are more likely to make different choices in the future that are better for our health and our relationships. This is because if we are met with a supportive voice when we fail, we are less likely to fear failure. This makes us more likely to take healthy risks and pursue goals we otherwise would not take.
Developing A Compassionate Voice
If most people have the self-critical voice as the default, you might be wondering how you can learn to have a more compassionate voice. The answer is practice. I know that when I first learned about the concept of an inner critic, it took me a while to recognize this voice as independent from myself and as a single opinion. But with practice and support of a trusted friend, eventually I was able to take the megaphone away from the self-critic and hand it to the inner voice of self-compassion.
My journey started by first learning to recognize the inner critical voice. It helped me to give the voice a persona. I drew it as a goofy cartoon character. This may seem silly, but it was effective. There is something powerful about labeling something in a concrete way that disarms it. After I drew this voice as a single voice, and not the only voice of truth, I could begin to picture it in my mind and distance myself from it, even laugh at it.
The second step in developing a more compassionate inner voice, again came with practice. Whenever I realized that I was in pain, feeling disappointed, or like I had failed, I practiced saying something kind to myself as I would to my sister or friend. This felt awkward and unnatural at first, but with practice it become more natural. It also helped to have people in my life who were aware of my desire to develop a more compassionate inner voice. They were there to gently remind me whenever I was being too hard on myself. Sometimes just by asking, “Is that the voice the inner critic or of a compassionate friend?”, was enough to help me change the inner dialogue.
The Journey Ahead
This shift did not happen overnight. Just as it took a long time for the inner critical voice to have a stronghold on my mental dialogue, it also has taken years of practice in re-writing the script to a more understanding and compassionate one.
If you related to this article, I hope that you find it encouraging. I hope this inspires you to reflect on your inner world and empowers you to foster a more self-compassionate voice. To learn more natural ways to support your mental wellbeing, visit https://www.wholehealthllc.com/services/integrative-solution-to-stress-anxiety-and-depression/. For an individualized and holistic treatment plan, make an appointment with me today. I am honored to be a part of your wellness journey.