Oh, the inner critic. It has so many names. I've heard it called the Inner Asshole, or the Saboteur (as RuPaul says). Whatever you call it, it all boils down to a little voice in our minds that is overly critical, harsh and sometimes downright mean. It's normal and part of being human. But it can still really suck. Add in depression and/or anxiety and that voice can become absolutely brutal.
Despite how universal this thought process is, it doesn’t make it any easier to ignore. We may rationally know it’s B.S., but emotionally we still feel the sting of those words.
I was listening to a podcast with artistic Renaissance woman Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way. When it comes to her inner critic, she takes this approach:
“What you say to your critic is, ‘Ah, thank you for sharing’ and you turn your critic from a voice of doom and gloom into a little cartoon character. And the cartoon character can be as negative as it wants, and you can step past it.”
I absolutely loved this approach to dealing with our inner critic! Here's why:
Mindfulness: One of the most powerful ways of managing our inner critic is to identify those thoughts and separate them from yourself. If you know you have an inner critic, you are already on a great track. You have already 1) recognized those thoughts and 2) acknowledged that they are not a part of you. When we can be the observer to our inner critic, we are able to step back and assess.
This takes power away from that thought process. By being the observer to our mind, we are not just being pulled along for the ride.
An exercise I have clients do is try to identify where they experience their inner critic. Is it in their head, their chest, their gut? Wherever it may be, I ask them to really notice where they feel those thoughts. Once they have it, I ask them to imagine separating those thoughts from themselves. So, if they feel the inner critic strongly in the back of their head, I ask them to imagine removing it temporarily from them. If they can see that, I ask them: How do they feel? What's it like to no longer have that thought process a part of themselves? And how do they feel about the critic when it's now on the outside, no longer attached to them? Most of the time, people reflect on how freeing it feels.
Humor: Yes, the words of our saboteur can be brutal and that can feel like no laughing matter. But the approach we take towards our thoughts and well-being does not always have to be so serious. When you can laugh at something, it's no longer as powerful or scary. In reality, the negative self-talk of the inner critic can be so mean that's its almost comedic. We would never dare speak that way to someone else, but we will to ourselves. Making a funny character out of our inner critic can give us back a sense of control. Personally, I like to think of my inner critic as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (not the REAL Mark Zuckerberg). In that film, Mark is portrayed as petty, guarded and quick to resentment. My inner critic is exactly the same way towards me. Naming my critic helps me stop acting on these thoughts and lets me make a different choice. I can say "OK Mark, I hear your input but it's unnecessary right now."
So, what's your inner critic like? What would you call them? What cartoon personality can you give them to soften the blow every time they try to bring you down? Whatever you call them, whatever they are like, you are in charge and decide what is worth your time.