6 Ways to Turn Off Your Inner Critic and Turn On Self-Compassion- from a Therapist & Business Consultant in Castle Rock, Colorado
You know that voice in the back of your head that always finds something to pick on? The voice that keeps making you second guess or doubt yourself, even though 5 minutes ago you were feeling totally confident? That’s your inner critic, and many of us are very familiar with that nagging voice who knows all your vulnerable spots.
For many of us, the inner critic is exhausting, frustrating, and unfortunately, effective. The more we listen to our inner critic at face value, the more we can find ourselves missing out, shying away, and feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed.
Can you turn off your inner critic?
What if you could start to change your relationship with your inner critic? What if you could turn that voice down, and turn up the voice of self-compassion instead? As a therapist and business consultant, I’ve run into a lot of inner critics and have learned some tricks about how to talk back.
Begin to notice thoughts as thoughts, not as facts.
We have countless thoughts every single day, and often several happening simultaneously! Our thoughts are almost constantly, and we can’t really stop them from happening. Thoughts are simply an indication that your brain is working!
But there's a big difference between a thought and a fact. For example…. I would like you to think that a giant pink elephant just walked in and is now standing right in front of you. Keep thinking about it over and over. So… did a pink elephant show up? Nope! Even though you were thinking that thought, it wasn’t a fact.
While the pink elephant is just silly, we also have to remember that some of our more serious thoughts can be false too. You can think something about yourself (or others, or the world) that feels so true, so painful, so cutting, that subconsciously you assume it must be true. But that’s just not the case. Believing those thoughts without actually checking them is how the Inner Critic gets started.
Instead, we can observe our thoughts, and then determine what is factual. I like to think about observing thoughts like wearing glasses. If you’re wearing glasses, you see the whole world through that lens. You assume that lens is accurate. But if you take off your glasses and hold them out in front of you, you can see part of the world through that lens, but you can also see other things around you without the lens. Looking at our thoughts for what they are, just thoughts, is like holding out the glasses in front to see if we're viewing our thoughts through an accurate lens!
Give yourself a few minutes for grounding.
The inner critic is excellent at hitting you in vulnerable places, so it’s easy to react and start feeling bothered by it quickly. Instead, it can be helpful to simply slow yourself down with a simple grounding technique. View this as the process of taking off the metaphorical glasses, so you can check on those thoughts for accuracy!
Your grounding could be as simple as a minute or two of slow, deep breaths. Another technique is noticing things around you with each of your 5 senses. I wrote about several grounding techniques in more detail, so check out that post here!
Grounding can help us move from an escalated, emotional state to a place that is a little calmer and more level-headed. Then we can recognize the inner critic’s tricks more easily.
Give your inner critic its own name and voice (and make it ridiculous!)
Most of us hear our inner critic in our own voice, which then gives it more credibility. After all, why should we intentionally want to mistrust ourselves? Here’s a way around that: give the inner critic its own name and voice!
I had a client who named her inner critic Gilbert after the late comedian Gilbert Gottfried, and used his iconic voice too! If you’re not familiar with Gilbert’s comedy, you may recognize his voice as the parrot Iago in the animated Disney classic, Aladdin. When she heard inner critic thoughts, she allowed herself to repeat them in her mind. But this time, they were in Gilbert’s voice, and she could talk back to Gilbert. That simple trick made it so much easier for her to address her critical thoughts that were neither accurate nor helpful.
Whatever or whoever you name your inner critic after, make sure that it feels clearly distinct from you!
Would you say that to a close friend?
A rule I use for myself with the inner critic is the Close Friend rule. If I wouldn’t say the exact same thing to a close friend, I shouldn’t say it to myself either. This doesn’t mean that we sugarcoat everything with some kind of toxic positivity. But think about when you need to share something difficult or constructive with a close friend. You probably aren’t going to say it in a mean, cutting, or sarcastic way. Why? Because you’re talking to a close friend! You value their friendship and want whatever you have to say come through in a way that is still loving and compassionate. That’s how we should talk to ourselves. Self-compassion and fighting back against our inner critic doesn’t mean we’re perfect and never need constructive feedback. It does mean that the way we say it matters.
But there’s another way the Close Friend rule can help. There are plenty of things we just wouldn’t say to our close friends because they’re not true! This comes up a lot with women and body image, motherhood, and our good qualities in general. If your friend looks amazing in a new outfit and her inner critic is beating her up that she looks fat and awful, you probably aren’t going to tell her it’s not true simply because you don’t want her to feel bad. You’ll tell her it’s not true because it’s not true! The Close Friend rule can help us view ourselves the way those who love us view us.
Turn to support and love
The inner critic always comes from somewhere. Often it developed as a part of us, sometimes from a very young age, as a way to protect us and help us avoid pain. To give an example: if you grew up in a home in which you were punished for crying, your inner critic as an adult might really cut into you anytime you think you’re acting weak, or being perceived as weak. Is this because the inner critic is just like that parent or sibling from your childhood? Honestly, I don’t think so. I think the inner critic is the part of you who doesn’t want you to be punished, because you remember how much that hurt. There is usually a deeper layer to our inner critics; one that actually cares about us. The problem is that the inner critic often goes about that in counterproductive ways.
Remember that love is far more powerful than fear. When the inner critic’s words go deeper than what you can address with the Close Friend rule or the Voice trick, it could be time to lean in and check on the part of you who is the inner critic. What is the fear coming up from the inner critic at this moment? What do you think they actually need? If we use the example above, perhaps the inner critic is fearful of being in trouble or being disconnected from family. Instead of then punishing the inner critic for that fear, you could instead offer safety and connection. Maybe it’s by talking to a friend, asking your partner for a hug or some quality time, or visualizing a safe and comforting place in your mind. These are all ways you can help the inner critic soothe and fade into the background a little bit.
Resources for Cultivating Self-Compassion
Many techniques that can help turn off the inner critic are also a part of Self-Compassion. Learning to cultivate self-compassion is a wonderful practice that can help you quiet the inner critic for good. Many consider Dr. Kristen Neff the leading researcher and expert on Self-Compassion, and I would certainly agree! Her website has plenty of resources, including recordings and guided meditations, that can be helpful tools in your journey to quiet your inner critic.
Another resource for working on your inner critic is the support of a therapist. If you’re interested in therapy and in the Castle Rock, Colorado area; compassion and connection are two of the core values at Authentic Connections Counseling Center. We would love to support you.