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Quiet the inner critic

Photo of a wall painting in which a man is holding his head in his hands and screaming in anguish

Ever heard the advice about befriending your inner critic? If you found it impossible to befriend that critical voice inside you, like I did, I might suggest waging an all-out war on it instead. Sometimes, you have to fight fire with fire.


When the negative introject overpowers your intuition and inner wisdom, befriending it will only make it more subversive – like the bully who smiles and hands you an ice cream cone before shoving it into your face. You wouldn’t turn around and befriend that guy, right? Of course not. You’d try to change the balance of power instead.


  • You could keep your distance from him so he doesn’t have the chance to bully you again. This would be like ignoring and thought-stopping your critical inner voice.

  • Or you could fight back. You could tell your inner bully to shut up, point out all the ways it is wrong about who you are and assign it all the nasty names you can think of.


I realize this goes against just about all the advice you’ve ever heard. Fill your mind with negativity? Won’t that just expand the bully’s toolbox?

Actually, no.


Once I started playing tough with my inner critic, it took less than a week to change the balance of power enough to not only quiet it but also to open up space for me to hear my intuition and inner wisdom again. It works! You don’t have to befriend, forgive or suppress your inner critic. Instead, you can fight it with everything you can throw at it.


Origins of negative introjects


Most of us develop our negative inner voice during childhood. We internalize what our parents tell us because remembering what makes them angry or disappointed is our way to stay safe. We need their love and support so we can eat, be housed – so we can survive. Our developing brains latch onto these lessons and make them into a roadmap for our behavior beyond the home.


A parent doesn’t have to be abusive, cruel or neglectful to lodge a negative voice in a child’s mind. It’s a basic mammalian instinct to create these behavioral maps based on even the subtlest cues from the group or family. Acceptance is survival, and therefore, our own internal structures evolved to maintain the level of acceptance we think we need. But sometimes, those internal structures end up sounding a lot like self-loathing, and occasionally they refuse to give us a break.


Influential teachers, mentors or spiritual leaders can also imprint judging voices in our minds. A sibling’s harsh words or strong opinions get lodged there too. Grandparents, nannies, friends who we idolized and plenty of cultural pressures can also build up our negative inner landscapes. And each source has immense power in blocking us from hearing our own better wisdom.


The work of adulthood is to distance ourselves from those voices, and if we have enough reserves of internalized positive beliefs, most of them will fall away naturally as our brain comes into maturity. But if those positive beliefs are too rare, quiet or untrusted, the negative voices are the ones who step in to fill the void.


That’s why befriending the critic isn’t likely to work for everyone, especially not for people with CPTSD, who’ve lived their lives masking their differences, or who otherwise never had the opportunity to develop a full sense of self in their youth.


So if you find yourself stuck in a whirlwind of inner negativity and no amount of positive self-talk, meditation or compassionate self-awareness seems capable of quieting the storm, it’s time to try fighting back instead.


How to fight the inner critic


The first step is learning to recognize it. Negative introjects are tricksters. They’ll dress themselves up as your conscience and even camouflage as your “wiser mind.” But if you pay close enough attention, you’ll see that there is a quality of animosity there that couldn’t possibly align with how your conscience or wiser mind would speak:


  • A conscience or wiser mind would want you to succeed and would therefore have an advisor-like quality.

  • It might come across as harsh, but your wiser mind won’t sound defeatist, fatalist or hopeless. Instead, it brings ideas about what can change. It suggests solutions.

  • So pay attention to what the voice says – if it hints toward failure, you know you’ve caught your inner critic trying to mask as something it’s not.


You’ll also start to notice sharp, crisp thoughts, images or voices that stand out in great contrast to the usual ruminations of your busy mind. These introjects can sound a lot like your intuition, or even like inspiration, but if they are cold, harsh, judgmental and take pleasure in your shortcomings, they are your inner critic for sure. These are the ones you really need to fight because they can be very, very loud. And they can seem to come out of nowhere, sabotaging you even as you celebrate a big win.


That’s exactly what happened for me last winter. I finished a huge presentation I’d worried about for months, and it went well. So I took a bath to celebrate. As I soaked and listened to music I love, that sharp, loud inner voice snapped, “You made a fool of yourself.” That’s all it had to say to launch the quieter critics next – I should give up, I will inevitably fail, I’m such an embarrassment, and so forth.


I tried thought-stopping. I tried deep breathing. I tried focusing my mind on sensations – the hot water on my skin, the music filling the room. And the negativity only got louder. At a loss, I decided to do the one thing that I’d been told to avoid. I shushed the voice. I told it to shut the f*** up. And I kept shushing it – loudly, forcefully – whenever new negativity spilt into my mind.


This went on for hours. I ate lunch. I went for a walk. I did my neuro drills. And I kept making that “SHHH!” sound whenever the thoughts of failure popped up. Eventually, they lost their hold and went quiet. I didn't self-sabotage by entertaining their messages.


The benefits came a few days later. Consistent fighting back opened the door to the actual wisdom it was spoiling: There were better ways to do my presentation in the future. I could make big changes to be more successful. The new voice was collaborative and helpful in its critique. It didn’t say, “You were amazing,” but it also didn’t tell me to give up. It instead told me how to move forward.


Since then, my inner critic has been much more quiet than it was before. It knows better than to show up in its harshest form. It still shows up camouflaged, but it’s getting easier to distinguish from my true intuition. And here’s the greatest part: The volume on my intuition is turned way up now. I can’t believe how much of it was blocked by that negative introject.


I’m so glad I decided to fight back. You will be too. You have my permission to fight back. No more befriending, no more digging for the nuggets of wisdom underneath. Fight like your future depends on it, because it probably does.


Does your negative introject stem from past trauma? My new video course on how to turn trauma into growth can help. Learn more here.

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