“OMG, I’ve gained so much weight—nobody’s gonna be attracted to me!”
“What if I can’t get it up? Or I come too soon?”
“My ass is NOT cute.”
“Of course I’ll be laughed out of a dungeon! I don’t have any experience with this!”
Has your inner voice taunted you with these kinds of messages? Or worse? What we tell ourselves, or what we hear, keeps us in a negative, limited, and powerless place. The power of that inner voice or critic can be truly overwhelming. In my thirty years of experience as a therapist, I’ve found that:
The harsh inner critic is the most universal problem of folks I meet.
And as a person with 60 years of experience, my own shift with that inner voice has brought about the most significant change in my own life.
So do you want to improve your life? Start to hear and then engage with the inner critic and you’ll be on the road towards healing.
Here’s what I’ll be writing about:
- How to hear the inner critic
- Why engaging with the inner critic is necessary
- Ways to engage differently (than simply listening and believing it)
What negative voice??
Many people are not even aware of a negative inner voice, it’s so automatic:
UGH! THAT WAS STUPID, you might say after hitting your shin accidentally on an open cabinet door. These automatic responses might seem unimportant, but are actually a very powerful force in our psyches (our whole personality), just like the power water has to wear away rocks. These seemingly insignificant words build up over time, and build up an inner impression of yourself as weak, insecure and vulnerable.
In the area of sex, which already can be a vulnerable place, these negative messages keep you stuck and unable to access your imagination and inner esteem.
So how can you start to hear what you often don’t even register?
Hearing the critic
- Start listening to yourself: Mindfulness techniques, like deep, slow breathing, can be helpful to calm your mind.
- Ask friends to point out the negative things you say about yourself and when trusted friends can be your allies. Even a simple question like, “Do you think I’m harsh on myself?’ can give you answers.
- Begin to compliment yourself: This will often trigger a negative internal response that you might then be able to hear.
- Sit down and write about what you think of yourself: Focusing on what you believe about yourself or what you don’t like about yourself and then putting it in writing form can help you take a step back and get clarity on what is going on.
Pay attention to your reactions as you start to listen to the voice. If you feel overwhelmed, ashamed, or just sad, take a break by focusing on something you enjoy or find nurturing before going back to examining what you’ve found.
Why engagement is necessary
Most folks don’t like looking at things that make them feel worse. Or, since they are always saying/feeling negative things and get overwhelmed, they think that paying attention will bring about more negativity. So why pay attention to the inner critic as a crucial step towards healing? One reason is that when you beat yourself up, you feel bad and naturally want to steer away from that feeling.
Unfortunately, often people try to distract themselves from feeling bad by eating, gaming, binge watching, etc. But once that’s over, folks often criticize themselves further for doing those things, ON TOP of the criticism that they were trying to distract themselves from. This starts a negative spiral that is hard to step away from. So your initial self-criticism plus your response to that judgement seems to “prove” that you are a failure, not worth of love, not ever going to get unstuck, etc.
Okay, you’re hearing the negative voice—now what?
First, understand that these negative criticisms are all internal. They may have been started by and made worse by family, society, and culture, but they are voices in your own head. While that is difficult, it is also hopeful because you can change your inner attitude.
In most instances, others are not judging you as harshly as you are judging you.
- Recognize that the harshness is destructive: You are likely feeling more of the effects of the critical voice now that you are listening more mindfully to it. The resulting sad or shameful feelings that you’re feeling now have always been there, but you have just attributed them to something else, or been unaware/unconscious of them until now.
- Practice caring/compassion versus criticism/comparison: When you have heard the internal comparison to someone else, or you’ve criticized yourself, find ways to be caring and compassionate. How? Say something kind to yourself, read affirming language and repeat it to yourself, ask a friend to listen to your feelings, etc. Many folks say they have no idea how to treat themselves kindly, but they do know how to treat others with warmth and empathy.
- Allow that there may be grain of truth that you can listen to: One way to engage is to hear the criticism and say “yes, but…” to it. If you’re not too overwhelmed, this may be possible. Example: Negative voice: “You’re so lazy! How could you not do the laundry? It’s piling up! You’re the slob your mom always said you were!” You: “Yes, I didn’t do the laundry. But that doesn’t make me lazy or a slob. I have been very busy at work and I really wanted to go out with Pat last night. My friend time is important to me and the work crush will be over soon.”
- Pay attention to the positive things that others say about you: This is something most people have a hard time with, but is essential. When you get a compliment, not only say thank you, but chat with the person who gave it, from a simple, “thank you for saying you like my glasses” to talking more with someone giving significant praise. For example, if you’re a manager and your employee thanks you for understanding about a recent difficulty, you can say, “I appreciate that you find me easy to talk with. I’m glad you could bring your difficulty to me.” Also, try to write down the significant positive things people say about you, and keep them in a place where you can regularly review them.
- Believe in yourself: All of this comes down to believing in yourself. The ancient Jewish leader Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” The first part of that wisdom is that only you can know yourself and it is imperative that you stand up for yourself. The second part is that if that is the only thing you do, you are truly not part of the human community. The third implores you start now.
Ask yourself, what would I do for a friend or loved one who was feeling like I am now? And then do that for yourself.
All of what I have outlined here seems simple, but knowing yourself (hearing the inner critic) and engaging with it differently than you have in the past is the most difficulty thing you are likely to do in your life. But it is a lifetime adventure of getting to know and believe in the treasure that you are.
Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash