The inner critic is painfully misunderstood. It’s actually not out to get you. And silencing the inner critic? Silencing the inner critic doesn’t work.
Here’s a good metaphor: your inner critic is like one of those streetwise dogs that finally gets picked up by animal protection services.
This streetwise dog has been kicked a few times, gone hungry a few days, and this dog has responded to that by becoming one lean, mean, snarling machine.
The streetwise dog is really a sweet, lovable puppy inside–who learned some serious defense mechanisms to protect itself from danger or the things that it fears. If a hand holding a food dish is extended towards that dog, the dog will probably bite. Never mind the fact that now all the animal services people want to do is love and nurture this streetwise dog–at first, it’s not going to trust anyone. It’s going to trust what it has experienced and all of its survival mechanisms from the past.
The dog isn’t bad. It just has a set way of responding to the world.
Silencing the Inner Critic
Silencing the inner critic doesn’t work. If you put a muzzle on one of those streetwise dogs, sure, it won’t bite–until you take the muzzle off. Then you’re really going to get it.
If you want to stop a dog from biting, you need to rehabilitate it. You need to teach it a new way of being, not shut it down and hope for the best.
You start rehabilitating your critic by deciding that you won’t silence the critic, anymore.
Instead, you’ll get present to it.
You’ll choose to see that it’s not “bad,” it’s just a voice that has learned how to respond to life in a particular way, based on what it knows.
It just is.
It’s part of all of us. And if you’re on the journey to love and accept yourself, then let that journey start with just accepting that the inner critic is there, and then having the courage to believe that it can be managed, that the relationship is one that can shift with time.
Boundaries with the Inner Critic
Sometimes people misunderstand me as saying that acceptance equals letting the critic say whatever it wants.
Nope. This isn’t about letting things run amok. I’m not saying, “Let your inner critic say whatever it wants.”
I’m saying, Stop pretending that putting a muzzle on the problem, is what fixes the problem.
Back to the “streetwise dog” metaphor: That streetwise dog, once it’s picked up by animal services, will not be allowed to bite people or other dogs. They will practice boundaries.
At the same time, animal services won’t hit the dog, starve the dog, or hurt the dog as part of rehabilitation. The only thing that’s going to help that dog that’s so afraid and defended is this: loving boundaries.
You establish boundaries with an inner critic in the same way that you would with another person. You start by going into each interaction knowing that the communication must be respectful. As soon as your critic says something judgmental, condescending, blaming, or shaming, you respond with:
“Stop. Take a breathe. I’ll listen to your concerns, but they must be voiced respectfully.”
For awhile, this practice will feel a little bit crazy, because you’re basically talking to yourself and that always feels a little nuts. But what you’re really doing is reprogramming an old fear pattern, to create a new courage habit–the habit of noticing your inner critic voice, and responding to it in a different way instead of avoiding it or getting sucked in.
You, in fearful, triggered inner critic mode, are not bad. Your critic needs some boundaries. You can embrace this part of you and understand why it is what it is, while not letting that side of you bite.
Start getting present to this side of you–the inner critic–rather than trying not to see it or feel it or hear it or recognize it. Then start setting some boundaries. That’s how you’ll start managing the inner critic voice in a way that keeps it from stopping you with self-doubt.