Five Steps to transform your inner critic
When life gets difficult or we make a mistake, instead of lifting ourselves up with self-compassion, we often make ourselves feel worse by giving ourselves a hard time. This inner critic is often such a permanent feature of our inner world that we don’t even think of questioning it or answering back.
It’s generally accepted that to be kind and compassionate towards others is a positive thing – but what about being kind and compassionate towards ourselves? Developing self-compassion is, I believe, one of the most important skills you can learn for building your self-esteem.
The first step really is to become more aware of when your inner critic kicks in. Once you’re aware – you can take steps to overcome it
Place two chairs facing each other…
Sit in one – speak your critical, worrying thoughts aloud (but don’t go too deeply into the feelings). Now stand up, walk around, think of something completely different, breathe deeply and get in touch with the compassionate part of yourself. Think of the facial expression and tone of voice you’d use to support a friend. Now sit in the other chair – your compassionate chair. From this place of compassion reply to your critical, worried self – what words of advice would you give a friend in a similar position? Swap back and forth between the two chairs – aiming to spend more time in the compassionate chair.
Notice what your inner critic sounds like…
…the tone, pitch and pace of that voice, as well as the words spoken inside your mind. Now give that voice a face, a body and a character of some kind – maybe a strict teacher, a critical parent, a cartoon or film character, even an animal. Imagine turning down the volume on that critical voice. Now start to transform the critic into someone who cares for you, loves you or who always offers you support and encouragement. Imagine the facial features changing to that kind, compassionate face. Imagine their facial expression, the gentleness of their smile, the kindness in their eyes. Now focus on the sound of their voice – notice how different that sounds to the critic’s voice. Now imagine their words – kind, caring, supportive words – encouraging and motivating you. Be aware of how this changes your feelings and responses.
Write a letter to yourself, taking a kind, gentle, compassionate approach
This can be a very helpful way of acknowledging painful feelings and calming yourself. Write your letter with the same tone you would adopt towards a friend in distress who you really cared about. Aim to be non-judgmental, sensitive, gentle, kind, caring and understanding. Express your feelings fully allowing understanding and acceptance, e.g. “It’s understandable you’ve been feeling so anxious/rejected/sad/frustrated because……” Focus on providing gentle, caring advice on how best to cope, mentioning previous experiences of coping well and what you’ve found helpful in the past. Kindly and gently suggest small, immediate steps that can be taken. There’s no place here for cold-hearted directives – “pull yourself together” is not going to be helpful and is hardly compassionate! Taking a step back and viewing your situation as if from a distance can be helpful in weighing up alternatives. Focus on gently encouraging and supporting yourself – avoid using words such as should, need to or have to.
How often do you beat yourself up for things you haven’t done, mistakes you’ve made or something you’ve said?
You’ve been doing that long enough I’m sure, so at the end of each day – do a quick review and praise yourself for things you’ve achieved or that you’re proud of that day – however small, take the time to notice your achievements and give yourself a pat on the back. Make a commitment to do this for yourself on a daily basis.
Make a list of ten things you like about yourself
They can be personal qualities, things you do well, looks, taste in art and music. Then read this list out to yourself as you look at yourself in the mirror saying “I love your……..” This may be challenging at first, but it’s worth persisting.