A while ago I was thinking about a rut I'd been stuck in.
My self talk reached a point that was like, "Bro you need to get your shit together".
Every single one of my friends would've chimed in to silence this inner critic, saying something like, "Tori, don't talk to yourself that way! You need to be more compassionate with yourself."
Frankly, I'm glad my friends weren't there to get in the way of me loving myself.
Though their protest would've come from a loving place, the same is true for my inner critic (IC).
Take a look at each of their statements side by side to notice the irony:
- "Bro you need to get your shit together."
- "Tori! Don't talk to yourself that way!"
They both give a strong suggestion (IC) and command (friends) for how I can do better at loving myself.
Both have my best interests at heart.
Do you see how they're not that different?
There is one difference: my IC and I had context about where each one of us was coming from for that to be a well timed, well-placed comment to myself.
Because let's be real, I'm not out here telling people I don't care about to get their shit together.
If I say that to you, it's because I do care, and I'm trying to give you a wake up call before life hands you a more painful one.
I recognized this intention immediately with my IC.
The issue in taking this stance with our friends is that we can overstep. But what am I going to tell my IC? "Mind your business"? I am its business.
And I understood its intentions.
So I wasn't bothered and I didn't feel bullied. I didn't feel any harm at all.
On the contrary, I felt a loving push toward action that's, ultimately, caring and good for me.
And it worked.
So... is it okay for our IC to sometimes be a little...critical?
How does this work?
Where We Miss the Mark With Our Inner Critic
Half of our work with our inner critic is to, yes, consider how we can view ourselves in a more compassionate light. This helps us in turn speak to ourselves in a more compassionate way.
The other half of our work that's less-often mentioned is learning how to view our inner critic differently to begin with. To consider their intentions, their backstory. And to see them as they truly are.
This means to practice what we preach.
It means viewing the IC itself through that same compassionate lens.
Is it really trying to tear you down? Or is it trying to do something else?
I could take the "bro you need to get your shit together" as a criticism, or I could take it as a "tough love" sort of warning.
I could hear it as a menacing, bullying voice, or I could hear it as a concerned friend trying to give me a heads up about the direction I'm headed.
The best part is, my IC is inside of me, so it's not hard to find out where that statement is actually coming from. A loving vs. hateful place.
Turns out, even when the message looks a little clumsy at first, it's from a loving place. Every single time.
Furthermore, consider this: if our IC's intention is to help, not harm, in those moments, why are we judging this part of ourselves so harshly?
Isn't that just being equally as critical to this well-intentioned part of ourselves?
Why would we ever try to silence an ally instead of partner with it to form a better-functioning ally-ship?
Wouldn't that make more sense?
Befriending the Inner Critic
It Starts With a Mutual Understanding
Nobody speaks perfectly all the time. This is why half of communication is comprehension.
Meaning we're not just listening to what the other person is saying. We're hearing what they mean when they say it. We're taking a look at what's going on under the surface to really get where this person is coming from.
We're getting curious and assuming that innocent intentions are in there somewhere.
Hint: they pretty much always are. Especially in how we treat ourselves.
Don't take my word for it. If you reach inward and ask your inner critic what it's trying to do, it's usually trying to protect you, and motivate you into action to do so.
The more stressed we are, the more protective that action might be, and the IC comes with a tone to match it (i.e. harsh, critical, dismissive, despairing, fearful, urgent) due to the urgency of said stress.
Even the gentlest mothers shape shift to apeshit if their babies are running toward a busy road. As they should. Baby's gotta live to forgive you if you want the forgiveness to occur.
And after working with so many clients and looking at the mountains of research piling up about the Inner Critic, we discover that this part of us shares that same role. The role of protector first, above everything.
In fact, when your IC speaks up the voice might even sound familiar. It might sound like your mother or father or caregiver.
There's a reason for that.
But it's also true that the IC isn't them. It's a part of you.
So no matter who it sounds like, the IC might not be as bad as we think. It might actually be a very important part of us. One who it turns out, loves us a hell of a lot.
On the Flip Side
The masses have a point and I'm not here to argue against it.
The truth is, the IC's talk isn't always helpful. Oftentimes it is harmful. It can be shaming and defeating, and this definitely needs to change.
But your IC behaving this way doesn't mean it's your enemy.
It's not a moral issue. It's a training issue.
Again, don't take my word for it.
If we think of this in a more literal sense, say, picture your IC sitting across from you and you're having a discussion about their role and how they play it you'll see some things.
Get very curious, and then see how many of these points feel true:
- Your IC is so active, loud and persistent because it cares about its job and takes it seriously. It feels its whole purpose in life is to protect and motivate you.
- This is one of the best kinds of people you can have on your team. No one else in your life will have your back on this as much as your IC does. They're not doing the job perfectly but they are passionate about it.
- Your IC also may not have gotten the best on-the-job training. It learned from your parents and caregivers how to speak to you. That's why it sounds like them. Not because it hates you, but because it inherited their tools. The people who were supposed to love you gave it the best tools its got.
- No one gave them different tools to begin with. And even when we do start to pick up new ones along the journey, it takes time, consistency, and patience to get skillful with them and learn to trust ourselves with them.
- Incidentally, this means they'll default to motivating you from a space of shame or fear because it's all they've got for now.
- When these are the only tools we have, we end up feeling more defeated and drained than motivated to take action.
- It'll get us going for a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things before we putter out. Depression takes over. Many of us sink into functional freeze states. I have some theories about depression, bipolar and borderline, for this reason. If that's you, definitely keep reading.
- The solution to all of this isn't to silence them. It just means they need to expand their tool-kit. They need training. We can't expect anyone to do well on the job if the training isn't there to help them.
- To be clear, I say expand because there are appropriate times for fear to become a motivator. Some shit is scary. There are appropriate times for guilt and remorse to be motivators. But those times are few and far between. So I'll cover more on the nuances of this below.
- Giving our IC on-the-job training helps them discover how to use tools that are more powerful, and help the whole of you, IC included, feel a hell of a lot better while doing the job well.
This expanded toolkit I speak of results in an overall respectful, kind, compassionate, and loving dynamic between us and our IC.
It also helps us know that if they turn their tune to something tougher, it's not out of lack of love. It's because it's serious and we need to listen.
In other words, when the gentlest mother screams "Adrienne stop right there!" the kid actually stops in their tracks. They do this because they generally respect and trust their mother and know if she sounds like she really means it it must be for good reason.
Or the adult version, when my IC pipes up and says "bro you need to get your shit together" when it normally doesn't speak to me that way? The same. Thing. Occurs.
This is why I'm not mad at my IC. I recognize that they were hitting a "wake up call" motivator because the others hadn't been working quite fast enough. I was running out of time to resolve my situation.
That statement was spoken from a space of love and urgency. Not shame. It was a "Girl. Get it together" moment that was well-timed, much needed, and much appreciated.
Now, if this was how I talked to myself everyday I'd blow it off or feel defeated by it. It would've meant nothing, because there would always be something I was "failing" at if that's how I always treated myself.
But this hit different, and for good reason.
After a long time practice of self-compassion and giving myself grace, I understood immediately that the only reason this voice was coming up like this is because it felt genuinely urgent.
And? It was right. I needed the push. It worked. I love myself more for it.
So how do you get there?
I'm going to give you the toolkit but we need some foundational changes.
First, Let's Rename Our IC
Since your IC has been discovered as a well-intentioned, misunderstood ally, perhaps we should start by changing its name?
I mean, if it wanted to keep that name that's fine but for the record you can name your IC anything you want. It's yours. And the name can be more loving.
For the sake of this article, we're going to collectively give the ICs a promotion, complete with a change in job title.
Introducing the Inner Motivator (IM)
Chief Action Officer (CAO) if we're getting fancy with it.
Now, your CAO comes with a job description.
It helps to figure out what that job description is.
The main objective might sound something like:
To help you take action on keeping yourself safe and achieving your goals with your health, relationships, and life.
That's a pretty critical role. It drives you to action in all of these key areas of life. That's beautiful.
Where tf would we be without it? Nowhere. That's where.
We might owe our IM an apology for our not seeing that sooner, and some gratitude for sticking it out with us even though the whole of the world is trying to silence it right now.
You'll get there when you're ready, though.
But a main objective isn't the only part of the job description. What's the rest?
Right now, it may seem like the only job description is to keep you safe. This is the #1 role of every protector in our internal system, so that makes sense.
But if you look more deeply, it's not the only task item.
Daily tasks for our IM include, but aren't limited to:
- Getting you out of bed in the morning
- Helping you remember what's important to you today
- Helping you prioritize needs over wants when necessary
- Motivate you to make the moves you need to make
- Motivate you to get your work done & clean up around the house
- Figure out how to do things that will help you feel better about yourself
- Motivate you to gain the courage you need to move through fear & resistance
- Motivate you to overcome challenges you're facing in life
- In an age where we're bombarded with other peoples' opinions, information, social media, etc. a big job is helping you get clear on what's important to you, and what's not worth paying attention to.
- Letting you know when you've stepped too far out of line
- Keeping you in your integrity
- The list goes on.
That load is pretty gigantic, isn't it?
Remember that compassionate lens?
Put it on & imagine being in charge of all of that for another adult human being, in addition to helping them practice basic safety?
Let's be real. That's a lot.
Now to imagine that same adult human being tries to silence you, views you as the enemy, or doesn't want to listen to you?
And you didn't get any job training for how to do half this shit? Nobody's helping you or giving you new tools. They just keep telling you to shut up and "be nice" even though "being nice" doesn't seem to be protecting you much.
And you're stuck in the job and your whole survival relies on you doing it well with that little bit of job training?
No wonder they're stressed. We'd all be stressed.
Oh wait. We all are stressed. Hah. How ironic.
But hey, remember this: you didn't get any training either. Both you and your IM have to figure this out together with the tools and resources you have.
Luckily, this issue of the newsletter is one of those resources.
And it comes with a set of simple af tools to turn things around.
Tools for Transformation
Helping Your (former) Inner Critic to Fully Embrace Their Role As Your Inner Motivator
The remainder of this article is going to focus on giving you the actual tools to healing your relationship with your IM in full.
The tools to really take the relationship from one based in criticism, despair & shame to one founded in compassion, encouragement and mutual support.
One where you can trust their voice, and the IM can feel appreciated instead of silenced.
Tool #1: Using The Past As Your Best Teacher
You know how people like to say "the answers are already within you"?
Well, we may not have been given the tools, but we sure as hell were given the map to find them.