Talk back to the negative voice in your head with these tactics
I know why I walk with a limp. It’s because my legs are different lengths. So who is it that shrieks at me every time I cross a room: You ugly, graceless, clumsy cripple?
My inner critic, that’s who.
The trouble with our inner critics is that they are us.
They aren’t all of us. But they also aren’t alien invaders or sneaky stowaways with separate lives outside of us. They are highly trained parts of us: insidious, relentless, expert parts.
Those “voices” in our heads that harangue, harass, insult and undermine us are aspects of our minds: not physical body parts but modes our minds adopt. Skills we have learned and internalized, on par with tying our shoes, tap-dancing or talking in rhyme – but, unlike those others, the skill of self-criticism is one we learned unwillingly, unwittingly.
In other words, we’re brainwashed.
We were not born with inner critics. No one is. The unafflicted infant brain seeks pleasure, satisfaction, comfort and demands – all three without apology. But somewhere along the way, someone – maybe several someones – came along and told us lies about ourselves.
We feared or trusted those people so much that we not only accepted and believed their lies but learned to memorize and repeat them obediently. With ever-growing expertise, we kept it up long after those liars were gone. Adding embellishments in what sounded like our own voices, we’ve been mesmerized into believing that those savage, scathing, razor-bladed inner narratives are rational and real. Surely they’re us, speaking the truth.
But even once we recognize them as the learned behaviors and bad habits that they are, we cannot simply snap our fingers and expect them to humbly depart. Nor can we surgically extract them or even talk sense to them. Trained into us by cruel, sadistic, narcissistic, sick agenda-driven maniacs bent on destroying us, and using our ostensibly private, ostensibly trustworthy minds to do their damage, our inner critics are notoriously hard to roust.
This situation forces us into the pretzel-twist of using our minds to retrain our minds. Using the best parts – the observant parts, the wisest yet most childlike parts – to fundamentally unplug, unfriend, reprogram and reverse the worst parts: the dominant, violent brainwashed parts.
How to silence these voices that were never really ours to start with, but were forced upon us as a form of trauma? They have a great deal of practice and are as clever as we are. It is hard and courageous, but we must cajole, condemn and trick our inner critics, employing their own tactics against them.
Here are a five steps to help get us started:
- Make up a name for your inner critic. It’s an easy way to remind ourselves that those “voices in our heads” saying terrible things to us about us are not really us. Hear that sinister yakking? Breathe. Become the Observer. Say: Oh, it’s you again, Gloxo. Or Snotwad. Or Dad. What would you call yours?
- Answer your inner critic in a funny voice or foreign accent. This further distances us from our inner critics and allows us to mock them and halt their monologues with brief, effectively weird interruptions. When my inner critic says: You lazy slob, I can, in a deeply sarcastic faux-French accent, think: Ah oui? Les Zee? Be creative. Have fun. What’s your favorite funny voice or accent?
- Repeat back to your inner critic immediately everything it says. You know how kids try to annoy you by echoing everything you say as soon as you say it, making whatever you (and they) say sound ridiculous? This technique helps to drain meaning from whatever insults or innuendos our inner critics spring on us. Everyone hates you. Everyone hates you!
- Start talking to your inner critic when it isn’t already talking to you. Get a jump on it. At random moments throughout the day, just start telling it all about itself. Tell it that you know what it is, how it got there, who put it there, when they did so, why they did so, how it functions, and how you feel about what it has done to you. Nag the heck out of it.
- Argue with it. Debate it. Meet its mean jabs with honest, self-supporting rejoinders. Yes, I’m clumsy but I can’t help how I’m built. Yes, Jane hasn’t texted me back but maybe she’s busy, maybe she’s on a plane, maybe she’s rude, maybe a thousand things that don’t reflect on me and aren’t my fault. What are some stock retorts that you can memorize for quick access? What are some more detailed rebuttals that you can utilize in extended combat?
What other ways do you deal with your inner critic? Share with us in the comments!
“5 Techniques To Fight Back Your Inner Critic” by Anneli Rufus was originally published on Spirituality & Health.