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How to Befriend Your Inner Critic

Do you find yourself going over things that have happened in the past or fretting about what is to happen in the future? 

Can you identify with thoughts that begin with the words “I should have…” or “What if…”? 

Take a moment to think about something you wish you had done differently yesterday or last week. Maybe it’s “I should have gone to sleep earlier last night” or “I shouldn’t have been so harsh with my friend”. 

Once you have a thought in mind, notice what secondary thoughts come up. These may sound like judgements or self-criticizing statements like “I’m a failure”, “I’m not cut out for this”, or “I’m a bad person”. 

Now, notice how you feel as a result of these thoughts. Emotions such as shame, guilt, embarrassment, or sadness may arise and make you want to shut yourself out from the world, crawl back into bed, or avoid going out.

Without a doubt, this vicious cycle is harmful and powerful, leaving us feeling like we can’t break free. And if someone else reassures us that we are the opposite of what we are thinking and feeling about ourselves (ex. “You shouldn’t think like that”, “You are a great friend!”), it can leave us feeling misunderstood and disconnected.

Our thoughts have paved a path

Once we think a certain thought, and we re-think that thought repeatedly, it becomes easier and easier to just think it without any effort or even be aware that we are thinking it. 

Where do we go from here? Sometimes we notice the negative thoughts and simply believe them to be true and part of who we are. What if we could acknowledge those thoughts as having come from one of many parts of ourselves and try to befriend that part? 

Here are 5 ways to acknowledge and shift the negative relationship between you and that voice in your head that puts you down, sometimes referred to as our inner critic:

1. Self-awareness

The first step is to recognize that you have an inner critic or a part that is responsible for these negative thoughts. Pay attention to the negative self-talk and thoughts that arise in your mind. Identify when and where your inner critic tends to be most active.

2. Separate yourself from your inner critic

Understand that your inner critic is not your true self. It’s a collection of negative beliefs and self-doubt that may have developed over time. By separating your true self from your inner critic, you can gain some distance and perspective.

3. Mindful attention

Take a few moments to turn your attention inwards and focus on where in your body or around your body you feel this inner critic. Does it feel like knots in your stomach? Do you feel tingling in your hands? Just observe where you feel it and how it feels.

4. Bring forth curiosity and assume good intentions

Keeping your attention turned inwards, imagine asking the inner critic a question or two about why it criticizes you and what good intention it has for you. For example, “Why do you criticize me?”, “What is your goal for me?”, “What do you think would happen to me if you criticized me a bit less?” Try to be open and listen to what you observe. You may be surprised to learn that this part is just wanting to make sure you do your best or something else that you aren’t expecting.

5. Befriend your inner critic

Moving forward, when you notice your inner critic, try to consider what good it is trying to do for you. Rather than push away or ignore, try instead to send some acknowledgement and even thanks to this part of you.

Get to know your parts

We all have different parts of ourselves. Getting to know our inner critics is one step towards developing a better understanding of ourselves and enhancing self-compassion. When we change the relationship between our true selves and our parts, we can experience deep healing and genuine shifts in the ways we think, feel, and act. 

Therapists who work from a parts work approach can help guide you towards gaining self-awareness, heal from trauma and emotional wounds, and create lasting, positive change in your life. 

Getting started is easy and our door is open when you’re ready to change the way you think about yourself.

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