Most of us have an inner critic. That’s the voice in your head that says you’re doing it wrong, or even that you’re not enough. It’s the incessant thoughts about the flaws or mistakes in something you’ve done. Your inner critic is the internal monologue you have that leaves you feeling less than.
Now many people think the answer is to just get rid of your inner critic. And this makes some intuitive sense, “if I want to feel more self-acceptance, more self-esteem, and feel more self-love, then I have to stop talking to myself in this way.” And while there is some truth to that sentence, we cannot simply shut up, or repress, our inner critic. In fact doing that will only make things worse.
Think of your inner critic like that annoying co-worker, or ex, who just doesn’t have an intuitive sense of healthy boundaries. The more you ignore their e-mails or texts, the more texts and e-mails they send. The more you avoid them, the more they pursue you and find opportunities to corner you. The more you try to brush them off, the more persistent they become. And as they become more persistent they also become meaner. That is how your inner critic works too.
So what’s the alternative? What actually helps reduce and shift your inner critic is to befriend him or her. And how do you do that? Empathy and boundaries.
The first step in befriending our inner critic is empathizing with them. When you have that thought “god, I am so stupid. Why did I say such a mean thing to my friend?!? I’m an idiot” you need to empathize with the feelings and values in that statement without agreeing to its claims. So in this example, that might look like “wow, I hear how frustrated and embarrassed I feel. I also feel really anxious that my friend’s feelings are hurt. I really value his friendship and the support I get in that relationship.”
Do you see what I did there? I didn’t agree with the judgment that I’m stupid. Rather, I empathized with the emotions and values that are in that judgment. Doing this teaches my inner critic how I like to be talked to because our inner critic really has some important messages for me. He really wants me to know how much I value this friendship. I just need to teach him how to communicate that to me so that I can hear it.
After you’ve empathized with your inner critic you then need to set a boundary. “I hear how scared you are about damaging this friendship; it is a really important source of support. And putting myself down isn’t going to help. When I see my friend next time I will apologize, and until then I will let this go.” Setting an effective boundary means you’ll need to address how you want to do things differently in the future, as well as making it clear that engaging in this vicious self-talk isn’t helping.
So try this on as an exercise: write down one self-judgment you have. Underneath that write down all the feelings and values inside that judgment. See if you can have compassion and empathy for those feelings and values. Then write down a boundary. And the next time that self-judgment comes up, say that empathy and boundary to yourself and notice how things begin to change.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.