We’ve all experienced that voice: the one in our head that tells us that we’re not smart enough, not good looking enough, not rich enough, not successful enough, not man enough, etc.
Does that voice sound familiar?
This voice of the negative ego undermines our confidence and self-esteem, saps enjoyment from our life, and torments us when we make mistakes or fail to meet some unattainable standard that we’ve imposed on ourselves.
Often this voice is a collection of punitive voices from our past – a parent, a harsh teacher or peer – which we have internalized to avoid the shame and humiliation that we might have experienced at the time of those original interactions. It is very common for some parents or authority figures to use guilt or shame-inducing language as a way of controlling or motivating certain behaviours. Think of the tough and aggressive football coach who uses belittling language to spur his players into action.
We can view our inner critic as a former protector whose original job was to keep us out of harm’s way, and in line with the rules of engagement in early relationships. Unfortunately, in the context of today, it’s approach is no longer useful, and instead reinforces feelings of shame, fear and self-loathing. This has the opposite effect of motivating us and instead teaches us to avoid potential shame-inducing situations, while increasing our anxiety and feelings of insecurity. We can then find ourselves avoiding certain emotions, opportunities, and relationships, to stay in the safe zone – and in control. Avoidance can take many forms: numbing out through unconscious eating, excessive TV and video game playing, isolating ourselves from connecting with others, distracting ourselves by keeping busy and procrastinating when faced with tasks and deadlines.
Usually this judgmental voice drops beneath the radar, that as we have become so used to its messages of abuse, we aren’t consciously aware of its presence. In turn, it slowly chips away at our self-esteem while keeping us anxious and depressed. Often this internalized self-judgment is a strong component in the addiction cycle, where destructive behaviours bring temporary relief from shame and anxiety. Acting out evokes a tirade of inner criticism, which activates feelings of shame, followed by the need to act out again to gain temporary relief from the negative feelings. The cycle then continues.
If we have a loud and active inner critic, chances are we will be judgmental and critical of the world around us. The inner critic becomes externalized and we use the same critical language with those close to us. This can have a negative impact on relationships with our spouse, work colleagues and family members.
Our mission then is to rid ourselves of this insidious saboteur and replace it with a voice of support and encouragement from a more nurturing and compassionate part of ourselves.
Here are 5 steps to evict the Inner Critic:
Bring awareness to the voice: As the inner critic voice is often outside of our conscious awareness we need to start paying attention to when it is active and what it is telling you. You can identify this voice by the harsh words it uses, and the feelings of shame, embarrassment or humiliation that it evokes.
Become curious about its origins: Once you learn to recognize the voice, see if you can identify where it comes from. Does it use the same words as a parent, a teacher or other adult in a position of power? Was there a time in your life when you heard those messages and believed them? Perhaps they are the taunts of a bully who knew exactly the right words to attack our most sensitive spots.
Talk to the hand: This voice is a liar and is no longer helpful. Once you become aware of the voice, it begins to lose some of its power. Talk back to it. Tell it that you hear it and won’t be influenced by its lies any longer. Let the critic know that you are not that little kid anymore. You are an adult and you choose not to listen to its lies any longer.
Replace the critic with a supporter: Begin to replace those negative messages with positive and affirming ones. Feel free to borrow any of these: “I’m doing my best, and my best is good enough”, “I’m choosing to be more human and less perfect”, “My vulnerability is a strength, and not a weakness”, “I’m allowed to make mistakes, especially while learning new skills.”
Reach out for help: Often attempting this life-changing work can be difficult on your own. Seek out a therapist or counsellor who can provide an objective and compassionate point of view. A trained therapist can help you challenge those old negative beliefs and free you from the grips of this destructive tyrant.
In a world where we are faced with so many daily challenges, we need to become a positive and compassionate agent of support in our own lives. Taking steps to take your power back from this inner saboteur will free you to engage in life with curiosity, enjoyment and possibility.
Article by David Scammell on behalf of Helix Healthcare Group
David Scammell is a Registered Psychotherapist and representative of the Conscious Masculinity Program at Helix Healthcare Group. For more information or to book a free consultation with a member of our clinical team, visit www.helixhealthcaregroup.com