Inside: All of you is welcome here. Stop bullying, shaming, and fighting against yourself. Accept your whole self and befriend your inner critic in order to live in wholeness, freedom + joy.
“All of you is welcome here.” This is my new favorite saying in life and work. When I hear this spoken what rings true for me, deep in my gut and bones, is that not only am I no longer willing to stay in relationships where all of me is not welcome, but also, that it is my responsibility to welcome all parts of myself. I must own my full story – the horrible and deeply vulnerable parts, the beautiful and brave bits, and the fullness of who and how I am, if I am to live in wholeness, freedom, and joy.
All of you is welcome here. This includes your inner critic if it’s operating in your life, along with your fear, longing, comparison, envy, grief, anger, and all your quirky characteristics. I also welcome the ways in which you’re proud of yourself, your strength, gifting, your beauty, and all the ways you’re showing up bravely, stretching, and growing into yourself. You are a person worth knowing and loving, though your inner critic may tell you otherwise.
What is the inner critic?
The inner critic is your harmful, demeaning, critical inner voice or judge. It can show up as different voices and wear different clothes. Underneath my old inner critic lived fear. To feel is vulnerable. And it was less vulnerable for me to feel anger or judgment than to feel the depth of fear or grief that lived in my body.
Your inner critic may sound like anger, comparison, perfectionism, or the voice that tells you that you can never quite measure up or keep up. That internal voice that berates you for being imperfect, that says mean things about your body or appearance, that keeps bringing up past mistakes, or speaks stories of guilt or shame to you – that is your inner critic.
The inner critic tends to leave us mired in feelings of shame, guilt, lack, low self-esteem, self-doubt, and depression. It erodes self-confidence, sabotages intimate relationships. In some cases our inner critic is debilitating and can lead to self-destructive behaviors including self-harm. Even when you do brave things it calls you a fool and undermines you because it feels safer if you hold back or hide under the covers Netflixing.
Jay Earley, clinical psychologist specializing in group therapy and Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), including working with the inner critic, and Bonnie Weiss, have labeled seven types of inner critics: the perfectionist, the taskmaster, the inner controller, the guilt tripper, the destroyer, the underminer, and the molder. You can learn more in their book, Freedom from Your Inner Critic: A Self-Therapy Approach (this gives you a sneak preview).
But here’s the really interesting and important thing – our inner critic is not actually out to harm us. Our inner critic is trying to protect us!
Just as our nervous system’s job is to keep us safe and alive and develops self-protective patterns that become instinctual and operate far-past the season of life in which we needed them (or most felt that we needed them), so our inner critic tries to keep us safe albeit in maladaptive ways.
am I stuck with my mean inner critic?
The voice of your inner critic can be quieted and your relationship with your inner critic can be transformed with education and practice.
As long as you give yourself permission to feel, you’ll continue to experience the full gamut of human emotion including fear, self-doubt, comparison, or weariness at your own imperfection at times. This is healthy and normal and it’s not the same as living with a vicious inner critic. In fact, as you restore a felt sense of safety in your body and your life, your inner critic can become the voice of your inner best friend.
But first you have choose your response. From my perspective you have three choices:
- Stick your head in the sand, run, numb, accept the status quo.
- Treat it as an enemy and expend lots of emotional and physical energy fighting back.
- Befriend it by restoring trust in your relationship and gain an inner best friend.
If you haven’t guessed it already, I choose door number three.
You can’t bully yourself into wholeness. You cannot shame yourself into freedom or joy. You CAN learn to befriend your whole self – including your mean inner critic – by practicing self-compassion and deepening understanding of your stories and behavioural and emotional patterns and slowly transform your inner critic into your inner best friend.Learn more about the workshop!
why would I want to befriend my inner critic?
Your inner critic needs to be attended to not ignored. Soothed not shamed. Witnessed and not rejected.
To heal, grow, or create positive and sustainable change in life we need to feel safe. We create a felt sense of safety by meeting people with compassion or an empathetic witness before we ever ask them to change their behaviour. We can offer the same to ourselves. I believe this is the wiser and both grief and trauma-informed response.
In my journey to freedom and wholeness, never once have I experienced life-giving or empowering change when I’ve taken the stance of aggressor or through bullying, fighting against, shaming, or being yelled at.
But when I’ve turned toward myself with compassion and understanding or when I feel witnessed and heard instead of judged, shamed, or dismissed, then I slowly begin to feel safe enough to release my old self-protective patterns and plant and water new seeds of hopeful possibility. My capacity increases and I feel able to take imperfect action towards a new way of being or seeing.
We’re taught in this culture to ignore pain and grief, to turn away or shut down “negative emotions,” to mask and put on a happy face rather than allowing our full selves to be heard and seen. We learn to isolate when we’re suffering or afraid. And this perpetuates harm.
There is no shame in being human in a messy world. We need to remember how to listen well, to hold space for ourselves and others, and to attune to the wisdom of our body which includes remembering that there is intelligence in every emotion. This does not mean we attach to, create a story about, or act upon every experience. But we listen. We sit with. We allow. And then, when ready, we choose a values-aligned response.
And in doing so we learn several things:
- We learn that we are strong enough to sit with discomfort and it will not break us.
- We learn about our fear, sadness, core beliefs, old grief, wounding, and trauma, and only when we name something can we repair it or choose a path forward.
- And we learn that we can be trusted with the full, vulnerable, truth of things. We are trustworthy.
We begin to turn towards ourselves and rebuild a healthy relationship with all of our parts. In turn, the volume, tone, and urgency of our inner critic softens. We heal at the speed of safety (Linda Thai).
how to quiet the noise and befriend your inner critic: 5 ways to get started
I’m offering a workshop to guide you in exercises that can help you bring more awareness to the role of the inner critic in your life and practices to quiet it’s noise. You’ll also have a chance to ask questions.
In addition, I’ve written posts or created resources to support you in each of the following practices and I’ve linked to those resources for you so that you can get started in transforming your inner critic into your inner best friend. One tiny step and then another is how we walk our way to freedom.
1. exchange shame for self-compassion
The three components of self-compassion are self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity; I believe that self-compassion saved my life and that shame took my son’s life. Read about self-compassion here and about fierce self-compassion here. Consider what it might feel like if you finally decide that you’re good enough exactly as you are, or you decide that your imperfect life is already enough?
One of the wisest choices I made was to create a no-bullying policy for myself when my third child was born. One day I drew a line in the sand and decided that I would no longer treat my body with contempt or speak to myself unkindly – and then I practiced my commitment daily.
2. get to know your true self
Personality is not the same as true self. True self lives underneath your conditioning, heartache, and the ways you’ve learned to keep up and measure up. This post offers 10 ideas to help you deepen your roots of self-awareness. This post explores how to come home to yourself. And if you are a Highly Sensitive Person or curious about it, this post can deepen your understanding of the trait.
Get clear on your core values and craft a vision for the next part of your life when you feel ready – this is an important part of truth-telling about who we are underneath the conditioning, expectations, and how we thought life would be vs the reality in front of us.
3. change your thinking (this is not about bypassing!)
When troubling thoughts or emotions come up you can think of them “as hurting parts that need to be listened to and loved” (Swartz, No Bad Parts). One of the most important ways we can change our thinking to soften the voice of our inner critic is by releasing binaries and all or nothing thinking and making peace with paradox.
This post offers 7 ways to build resilience including ways to direct our thoughts (it includes my much-used 3/2/1 exercise that you can start using today!). Life is messy and how we think about or relate to stress (or our stress mindset) can make a significant impact on our experience of life; it also speaks about hope which is as much a way of seeing life and showing up to life as it is an emotion.
4. learn how to regulate your nervous system
We often assume that changing our thinking alone is enough. Taking a mind-body approach to wholeness is far more effective and learning how to regulate our nervous system is important if we want to restore a felt sense of safety so that our inner critic quiets down. In order to become more skilled at nervous system regulation we must boost our emotional literacy.
Become empowered in your body and life as you learn about nervous system regulation via this free workshop. This post tells you why JOY is a more vulnerable emotion that fear, anger, or grief. This post explores why we need permission to feel it all (shame and judgment free). This post about empowering ways to navigate stress speaks to creating a felt sense of safety.
5. practice seasonal living and make space for ebb and flow
There are seasons in which your inner critic will be predictably louder like when we’re in an Autumn pre-menstrual phase or perimenopausal phase, for those who menstruate. Also, if we’re feeling vulnerable, in significant life transition, run down, or weary, navigating grief or trauma, or liminal space, our inner critic may get louder. Again, remember that the inner critic’s goal is to keep you safe so when the critic gets loud, use this as a cue to consider what needs of yours are not being met or how you can fill your cup.
Seasonal living is a form of mindful living and teaches us to embrace ebb and flow, light and dark, joy and pain. We feel less afraid of the harder seasons because it’s all part of a full, meaningful life and we know that there is beauty and wisdom to be mined in every season. This does not mean that we accept a mean inner judge but that we meet it with gentleness and know that if we’re nourishing ourselves well, mind-emotion-body, then this harder season will be temporary.
BUy the befriend your inner critic workshop if…
- You need to get clear on how your inner critic is harming you (for instance, it leads to shame, low self-esteem, depression, self-doubt and undermines self-confidence).
- You’re soooo weary of hiding, comparing, masking, or bullying yourself and otherwise holding yourself back from the business, life, relationships, or other values-aligned work you want to be doing in the world.
- You’re curious about why we’d want to befriend our inner critic instead of eradicating it. And how to move toward and build a healthy relationship with our inner critic instead of turning to our habitual self-protective patterns.
- You need tips around understanding the role of perfectionism and fear in your life and concrete strategies to face fear head-on and begin walking in greater freedom and (joyful) possibility.
- You’re a highly sensitive soul in a noisy world and need a gentler, intentional, sustainable way of being in the world or you’re a weary human who needs to be reminded that you are not bad, wrong, or broken. You do not need fixing. You have what it takes to show up fully to your messy and beautiful life in a way that honours your wiring.
Remember, all of you is welcome here,