The Inner Critic and the Inner Friend

The Inner Critic and the Inner Friend

“You are not good enough! What’s wrong with you? You are so stupid.”

Pause for a moment and imagine if someone said these words to you. How would you feel and how might you respond?

I’m sure most people would consider someone approaching them in this way, an unpleasant and unhelpful experience at the very least and at the worst may consider smacking the sharer. These words do nothing much but offer the receiver an insight into the fact that they are considered a problem and are worthless. Have you ever noticed your internal dialogue sound like this sometimes? I certainly have! Isn’t it strange that we would probably not say this to a really good friend if they rocked up at our house feeling bad about themselves, were stressed, had made a mistake or not performed well at work but…….. …you know what’s coming………..we do it to ourselves in those moments of need. This way of self to self communication is very common and even those people that you think have it altogether (yes them, the glossy ones on instagram) that look like they are living their best lives, have some form of this going on to varying degrees. Knowing more about this, that we are not alone and that we have the opportunity to change our interactions with ourselves can be empowering, motivating and help us to feel a whole lot better.

Did you know, that this part of the the brain’s default mechanism designed to protect you from making mistakes, to better yourself, and keep you safe? Bless the brain, it’s trying it’s best but hasn’t quite evolved to realise that this causes more stress and then more negative talk which then creates …’ve guessed it….more stress! Research has shown that the body has a physiological stress reaction to these kind of phrases and there are better ways to speak to ourselves to motivate and soothe ourselves. We have the capacity to notice when this self -talk is happening and intervene with positive intent. Honestly, the world is challenging enough sometimes without adding the extra weight of being harsh to ourselves. This does not mean we are not honest and don’t talk to ourselves about how to grow and do better but it just changes up the way we do that.

In times of challenge, we really need support. Becoming a parent for the first time, a new job, a big life change, discrimination, oppression, adapting to a new culture, puberty, being a teen, unemployment, or just the stresses of everyday life, present us with challenges that long for a compassionate friend. If we can create that resource within ourselves, a friend is never far away.

Lucy Keller

At times in my life when things have been tough, I have learned to turn towards my experience as if I was supporting a friend through the practices of mindful self-compassion. If you would like to explore this more deeply, there is a wealth of science-backed, fabulous online resources from Dr Kristin Neff and Dr Chris Germer.

In the meantime, here are some steps you can explore to working with the harsh voices: 
  1. Notice when you hear yourself speaking harshly to yourself. 
  2. Smile to yourself for noticing (getting upset by them makes it worse and don’t forget, we all have them!) Well done for calling them out! )
  3. If it feels comfortable to (it’s not for everyone) put a hand somewhere comforting on your body (this connects to our mammalian caregiving system which can stimulate the release of oxytocin)
  4. Take a few deep breaths and finally ask yourself…
  5. What would my most compassionate friend say to me in this situation? What do I really need right now?