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Our inner critic is loud and bossy. Have you ever stopped to listen to it?
“What did I do that for? I’m such an idiot!”
“I’m so fat!”
“I’ll never make anything of my life!”
“Why does this always happen to me?”
“I’ll never get this right!”
This inner critical voice has been with us since very early in our lives. It’s our most consistent companion. Maybe you’ve tried to change it with positive affirmation statements or to silence it through meditation, but it’s very hard to fool yourself or to shut this voice down and despite all your efforts, the inner critic is loud and clear and bossy as ever: “Yeah right! As if!” So you check to see if it’s 5pm yet: “Surely it’s time for my evening glass of wine!” or you reach for some chocolate or cake or some other comfort food and get lost in Facebook for a while. It’s much easier to numb.
What if you really started listening to this voice and what it has to say? What if you put on a different set of ears and listen through the negativity and criticism to what is really being expressed? When your child says “He’s being mean to me!”, they’re really telling you that they are feeling sad and angry and would perhaps like your support to help them to feel safe or included with their friends. Our inner critic is the same – it’s using habitual language learnt in childhood. It just doesn’t know how else to express itself to you. And, like a child, we can turn towards this inner critic and really listen with compassion, love and curiosity.
So what can we do when we become aware of the loud ranting voice in our heads? Here are three quick tips to help you listen with compassion to your inner critic:
Pause and take a few deep breaths. This helps to calm your nervous system and slow things down.
2. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
The body talks and if we can slow down enough and start to notice the sensations, we can learn a lot about our inner world. We don’t have to do anything or analyse it, just to notice with gentle curiosity. Perhaps there is a contracting feeling in your stomach or your scalp is prickling. Try to stay with the sensation. A way to help you stay focused on the sensation is to describe it: Does it have a colour, shape, texture, thickness, etc? Just be with it.
3. LISTEN WITH LOVE – Focus on Feelings & Needs
This inner critic is a part of you that wants to be heard and loved, to be noticed and to matter. When your child comes crying to you saying that someone was mean to them at school, what do you do? You probably take them on your knee, give them a cuddle and make some soft, loving, compassionate sounds that let them know they are loved and that they matter and that you are here for them. This is what your inner critic needs too. Can you guess what feelings are underneath the harsh, negative language? Sadness? Frustration? Disappointment? What really matters here? What is the longing? What is important? What is needed? Love? Inclusion? Understanding?
The more we identify with the inner critic, the more we stay in a state of helplessness and disempowerment. Through slowing down, allowing, tuning into our bodies and really starting to listen, we can get more in touch with what really matters to us in our lives and then we start to make different choices and have more clarity when things aren’t going the way we hoped. The path to empowerment and really creating the life we want is through self compassion.
When we can be better friends to ourselves, we can be better parents, lovers, children, friends, neighbours, colleagues and citizens. A compassionate world is created by compassionate people and it starts with our relationship to ourselves.
About the Author
Filippa Araki regularly facilitates workshops on Self Empathy and Compassionate Communication (Nonviolent Communication) on the Gold Coast, Queensland. She has been teaching communication for 25 years and began intensively exploring her inner world about 7 years ago when she hit burnout and became depressed after the birth of her second child. Now a Self Compassion Evangelist, Filippa wants to make the world a better place for future generations through fostering a Culture of Compassion.