It’s a New Year which comes with the inevitable, and often dreaded, New Year’s resolution! We often find resolutions hard enough because we are trying something new, and one of the things which often impedes our progress is our inner critic. I’ve written about the inner critic before, but as a reminder – our inner critic is that internal, critical/negative voice that often uses self-limiting language. Examples include:
“You’ll never finish that – why bother? It’ll just be another failure!”“What were you even thinking? You are a hopeless mess!”“No one else believes in you and now they’ll know for sure what a loser you are.”
This is certainly not exhaustive, because our inner critic is creative in its ability to undermine and impede our progress. Many of my clients come in desiring to completely rid themselves of this critic, and while this is completely understandable, it’s often unrealistic (especially in the short-term). The reason for this is because often (not always) this critic developed during a period in our life when it was trying to protect us and it was likely highly effective at its job. That’s why you didn’t fire them a long time ago!
The good news is that there is hope! Even if we can’t give this critic a pink slip, we can change our relationship with this critic and start to leverage them to our advantage. What I’d like to do is give you a couple of simple strategies that I’ve found which can help you place them on a “performance plan.”
1. Give them a name – This sounds a little “nutty,” but it makes it easier to talk back when the critic gets really loud and makes it easier to test the beliefs that flow from their criticism.
2. Writing letters – Now that you’ve given this critic a name, make them your pen-pal and get to know them! Talk to them about what they want for you and share with them how they make you feel. This can, again, feel a little “nutty,” but it gives you a place to start understanding your critic more and works to begin changing that relationship.
3. Empathy – This is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hard to do, but the one thing your critic can’t do for you is offer you empathy. By learning to foster this for your critic, you continue to reshape that relationship, begin to understand the reason your critic developed initially, and start to reteach/ retrain your critic.
Finally, get support! Often times, negative relationships (such as the one with your inner critic) would benefit from being discussed more openly with others – share with your loved one (parent, sibling, spouse, partner, pet) about your struggle with this critic and some of what they tell you. This will not only reduce stigma, but it serves as a way of getting extra support, help challenge the beliefs of the critic, and will help keep you accountable to changing this inner dialogue. Remember, all of us at Life Skills Resource Group are always here to help as well! Feel free to give us a call if you have a particularly vociferous inner critic who is holding you back, and if you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution consider making yours to be kinder to yourself!
Daniel Garner-Quintero, LMHCLicensed Mental Health Counselor