Silence Your Inner Critic

The woman sitting across the table from me said, “I know I’m ugly.”  Instantly, I thought, she just told me what her inner critic was telling her.  I looked her.  She wasn’t going to be the next cover girl; nor was she ugly.  She had beautiful green eyes with lashes not needing mascara, blemish-free, teeny-tiny pore skin I would give my eye teeth for, and perfectly aligned pearlies surrounded by full lips.  There was a lot to like.  And I gave her my opinion (of course).

We all have one, an inner critic, that is.  According to my therapist (yes, I have one of those too), the inner critic shows up during childhood as others criticize or correct to the nth degree.  As children we internalize the negativism as a voice, often a destructive voice, inside our heads.  We tell ourselves we’re ugly or fat or can’t accomplish our goals or aren’t smart enough to understand this or nobody cares about us.  Whatever the dialogue, it is often not the reality.

Thirty-five years ago I read book after self-help book, took an employer-sponsored course called “Context Training” and learned to ditch much of my inner critic by separating fact from the fiction in my head, just as I hope I did for the woman mentioned above.  Books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale changed my life as I became more self-confident, enjoyed more success and became still more confident in my abilities.  I embraced failure as opportunity instead of failure.  My inner critic became a squeaky little buzz of white noise that was quickly silenced when doubt knocked on my door.

As a caregiver the voice recently tried to resurrect itself as I struggled with new challenges.  Faced with mounting stress, my caregiver coach (yes, I have one of those, too) told me, “The stress will never go away.”  My inner critic started saying things like, “You’ll never have a day of peace, so why plan for one?” or “You’ll never get to relax, so why try?”  It took me awhile to realize my inner critic was getting louder.  I needed to duct tape its mouth before a tough situation became tougher.

Self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-love is the first step to silencing your inner critic.  Today I did the best I could do with what I have to do it.  Even in retirement, if life presents you with a crappy hand, as with any other time in life,  tell yourself how much you did right today and how much went right today.  Remind yourself that most people do most things right most of the time.  Give yourself a break.

Oh, I’m no Little Mary Sunshine.  I still need to unload on someone.  My therapist gets paid to listen; my family and friends are there for me.  However, I remembered how our thoughts influence our view of life, our way of handling life and our confidence…the power of positive thinking.  That’s the next step.  Be mindful of your thoughts.  What you put in your mind is like what you put in your body.  You want a healthy diet of positive thoughts.

I started keeping a gratitude journal again.  I might write something like,  “I got up this morning to the sun shining, birds chirping, a garden full of flowers with more to come, a yummy breakfast, worked in the art studio with alcohol inks, talked to a friend.”  Separate the fiction in your head from the facts of your life.  Instead of thinking you are ugly, think about your beautiful green eyes. 

Or, remember making a list of pros and cons when trying to reach a decision?  It works for silencing your inner critic, too.  Make the two columns and write down all the good things about your life and then all the negative things about your life.  Chances are you can find more good than bad.  And recognize the negatives, not as failures, but as opportunities for improvement. 

My stress may never go away, but it can be reduced with positive thinking.  I just had a chance to relax by writing this post.  It gave me a slice of peace.  You see?  I just gagged my inner critic!  And you can, too.

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12 comments on “Silence Your Inner Critic

  1. I appreciate your telling your story. Life can be very tough and hand you so many lemons that you can’t make lemonade out of them all. It’s important to overcome that inner critic so that we can cope with our circumstances as best we can.

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  2. YES! Gratitude is a game changer…opens wide the windows of thinking…and blessings flow…By chance, I re-read a book today that helped in a long ago challenge…a testimony that good ideas like good writing are timeless…THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE by Norman Cousins.

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  3. Kathy,

    Thank-you so much for these thoughts. It came at just the right time as I too have been struggling with my inner critic. You brought me right back to reality! The good things in my life definitely outweigh the bad things. I just have to make a conscious effort to remember that😄

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  4. Great post, Kathy. I sometimes find it difficult to get to the positive thinking part. I need to be able to quiet my mind first, as my brain tends to hang out in negative territory quite often. I’ve become a daily meditator after reading “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Life-changing for me. Never thought I’d meditate. But now my body looks forward to it, and it feels like I’ve pressed a ‘reset’ button when I’m finished. Normally I don’t do the traditional sitting mediation. There’s meditative Yoga, walking meditation or body scan meditation. If this speaks to you, check out the book. Thanks for your post.

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  5. Very inspiring post. I’ve put the bookmark in my main toolbar to remind me to not be so critical of Others. I swear I’m getting worse every year – (and my husband agrees). Many of the same ideas apply. Thank you for this.

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  6. You are so right! I can’t begin to tell you how learning not to complain changed my life (and my husband’s!) which is simply a variation on what you are so eloquently discussing.

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  7. Kathy, that’s a nice post, and just what I needed to read today. I find myself, especially now that my metabolism is so much slower, being way more critical about my weight. Not that I don’t want to be healthy, but I often find myself a victim of my own negative self talk. When in reality, I have so very much to be thankful for! The Dr. says I’m perfectly healthy, we’re enjoying our lifestyle…this is a really good gig! Thanks for the gentle reminder! ~ Lynn

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  8. It is unbelievable how many awful things we are capable of telling ourselves. I bet the lady would never tell her friend “you are so ugly”. I guess we are all sinning sometimes with luck of self love.

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  9. My yoga teacher often refers to negative thoughts as ‘stinking thinking’. We contaminate our brains when we allow ‘stinking thinking’ to take over. Thanks for your advice on self-compassion — we all need to care for ourselves before we can care for others.

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  10. You write and hit nerves on every spout. I love your sense of flow for the reader.
    It did spur so many things I’m doing blatantly wrong. Some of the things I say to myself are so horrible I cringe at the sound of my own voice. It takes me back to 12 years old when I struggled to place a chair just right on a load for changing residence for my grandad. My attempt to place it as instructed by him ended in a tunnel path that darkened as it ceased in a “you stupid son-of-bitch” rant that broke me in front of the rest of the family.
    I will because of you try harder to rectify the wrong and be kinder to the soul of me. I surely do not treat anyone like this and never would. But when things turn wrong I totally go off on me. I see that now because of your compassion in writing a path for me.
    Thank you Kathy.

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    • Claude, My heart goes out to that young boy and to you now. We all have similar stories in our background. Mine was a neighbor’s older cousin who, while visiting, gathered up all the neighborhood kids and rejected me as not being good enough to be in the group. As they all taunted me, I ran home crying and hid behind the door in my bedroom. My much older cousin, who lived on the next block and witnessed the entire situation, intervened and comforted me, but that rejection and taunting stayed with me for decades. I always felt like an outsider in large groups. When I finally recognized where my discomfort came from, it changed the entire dynamic. Yes, carve out a different path for yourself. Your 12-year-old self was not stupid and neither are you. Hugs, K

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  11. One of my goals is to be my own best friend and that includes putting a new playlist in my head. The stress may not go away but your positive attitude will go a long way to mediate it. Thanks for the inspiration.

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