Last week we began looking at the critical inner voice. Most of us have one, at least occasionally. For some, however, the inner critic can become a continuous commentary that interprets comments and experiences in a destructive way. As we learned, the inner critic is never helpful, preying on our insecurities, anxiety, and self-worth. It can be difficult to take on new challenges, new relationships, or new career/school activities. The inner critical voice often makes us suspicious of others without any evidence, which can create a sense of isolation.
For the sake of clarity, let’s look at what the inner critical IS NOT. It is not a separate “voice” in your head; it is not mental illness. It is a collection of thoughts, emotions, and old belief systems. “Listening” to it is NOT the same as psychosis. The inner critic may even sound like someone you know. The inner critical voice is NOT your conscience. The inner critical voice is not a moral compass. Remember, the inner critic is generally degrading, demoralizing, and often downright cruel. The conscience is rooted in the part of ourselves that aspires to higher choices, kindness, and our ethical/moral code, whatever that may be.
In order to communicate with the inner critic, we first need to recognize the voice before ultimately challenging it. While everyone will have their own commentary, there are a couple of words that many people share. Do you find yourself frequently using “always” and “never?” Do you find yourself saying things such as: “You always blow it?” or “You’ll never succeed” to yourself. That is the inner critical voice speaking. Remember to ask yourself for evidence…it is unlikely that anyone ALWAYS fails. It is also quite likely that those “black and white” statements are applied to other people, experiences, and events. Rarely is anything that absolute but unconsciously believing it to be colors everything, for good or ill. Perhaps the “voice” is of someone you know.
Once we recognize some of our words and phrases, we can use our mindfulness skills. Become aware of your inner dialogue AND how it makes you feel. Take one of your quiet timeouts and become mindful of the content of your inner critical “tape loop.” Remember to ask yourself for evidence once you identify a critical inner comment. Is whatever it is ALWAYS true? Do things NEVER work out well? Unlikely. Todays challenges are: pay attention to your thoughts and emotions. Ask for evidence. Take a timeout and be mindful.