We experience many different dialogues, discussion, and conversations in our lives. Some of them are nice, some of them are neutral, and some of them are not so nice. This is true for voices we hear in our external world but also in our internal word. However, our internal world is often negatively skewed. Many of us have a very loud and dominant inner critic. This voice tells us things like: “you are stupid/ugly/fat”, or “you cannot/should not/must not do xyz”, or “you will end up alone”.
In our external world, we can decide to avoid people who tell us those things. When it comes to our internal world, this is more difficult. Moreover, this voice becomes a familiar companion for many of us. We don’t question but readily accept those messages.
Somewhere I read that every internal voice once was an external one. I think that this makes sense. And although this knowledge helps us to avoid people who have a tendency to belittle us, it doesn’t drive away our inner critic.
So what do I do in my coaching practice and what do I do in my own life to change that?
Mainly two things. One element is about getting to know the inner critic. The other is about building and strengthening a different, more positive voice.
As strange as it sounds but our inner critic always wants us to be happy. It wants to keep us save or it wants to motivate us. Sometimes, this works. But at what cost? We often don’t know about the true message, when we hear that voice in our head that we are too fat or too lazy. Sure, we might start a new diet or be more productive but often enough we don’t do anything and just feel bad about ourselves. And even if we do act on those statements, being motivated by negative comments can achieve results, but it comes at a cost, too. We become resentful of ourselves, our weaknesses and if we become resentful of ourselves, chances are high that we will become resentful of others.
So, the next time you hear your inner critic, try to ask it what it wants for you, deep down. If you find it too difficult, I recommend to seek an experienced coach or a therapist.
Here are some example questions you can ask your inner critic:
- What are you afraid of if was to do xyz?
- What do you wish for me?
- Can you also say it in a different, more positive way?
- What would be the benefit if was to become more healthy/intelligent/productive…? (this question also aims at the underlying intention)
Building and strengthening the positive voice, our inner friend requires more effort. For many people, this voice is either non-existent or really faint and quiet. So, now we can make use of the previous statement that every internal voice was once an external one. A good starting point is to reflect about how you would talk to your best friend. When in a similar situation (when the inner critic throws punches at you in form of mean statements), what would you tell your best friend? I can imagine that you would be kind, compassionate, understanding, encouraging, and supportive. And if you are not, you might want to work on becoming a better friend. It can help to write down those positive messages that you would tell your friend and then tell them out loud to yourself.
It will feel strange and you might not accept it for your own situation. That is okay. Still continue doing it. This voice needs to be cultivated and we cannot expect it to suddenly manifest itself just by force of will. It needs training.
In my coaching sessions, if I feel that my coachee has a dominant inner critic (which you can often see by the choice of words he/she is using), I automatically work on building up this voice. Even if our goal is a completely different one, I will strengthen this voice by pointing out strengths in the other person, what values they have and the positive aspect of living their values, I will challenge and reframe statements and make them aware of a more positive point of view that most of our experiences hold as well.
At the beginning, many people don’t accept that positive voice. It feels strange and not normal and they try to argue with it. This is normal, too. We don’t like change. Even if it is for our own benefit. However, from my experience it doesn’t take long (depending on the strengths and size of your inner critic it will vary) to until people can hear this voice more often. At first, they hear it as my voice. But with time, they will incorporate this voice and it will become their own.
My wish for you is this…
If you have a loud and dominant inner critic try to speak to it and figure out the positive intention behind its words. If you cannot do it on your own, get help. Additionally, start cultivating your inner friend. It is always nice to have a good friend on your side. Even better if this friend is always with you.
And I have a second wish…
If you have a friend that has a dominant inner critic. Be that positive voice.
What do you think about this topic? Let me know in the comments.
Have a wonderful day, Stephan