I felt stuck. I was frustrated. I just couldn't seem to move forward. I had recently left my job that just didn't fit anymore to start my private practice.
I knew I was good at being a psychotherapist. I loved working with people and I was really excited to start this next phase of my life. But somehow, no matter how badly I wanted to, I couldn't. It felt like for every step I took forward, I'd take 2 steps back.
Then it dawned on me. The truth was that, deep down, I was afraid of putting myself out there to the world, to shine my light and tell people what I did and how could I help them. That vulnerability, combined with the fear of rejection, was overwhelming.
I realized that the fear I was experiencing was that of my inner critic, stemming from old wounds that had not yet healed.
Most of us have experienced being under attack from parts of ourselves known as the inner critic. We all have an inner critic, that internal voice that tells us that we're not good enough, smart enough or skinny enough. It can feel like we have a tyrant always by our side, waiting to jump in.
While we all have an inner critic, it becomes a problem when it interferes with an area of our life. It can keep us stuck and prevent us from being who we truly are out of fear of what others may think, say, or do. A tough inner critic can lead to feelings of shame, low self-worth, hopelessness, depression, guilt, obsessive thinking and addiction issues.
Once I saw the connection between my inability to move forward and my inner critic, I started healing old wounds and my inner critic's voice got softer. I was able to free myself from my inner critic and move forward. You can, too.
To free yourself, you need to understand your inner critic and how it developed. The inner critic develops in childhood as an attempt to avoid pain and to make you feel safe. Children are completely dependent on their parents for survival. Because of this vulnerability, children develop an inner critic. The inner critic mimics the voice of the parents and attempts to protect you by criticizing you to prevent you from saying or doing anything that may lead others to criticize and reject you. As you can see, the inner critic reasons that it is helping you earn love while protecting you from feeling ashamed and hurt. The inner critic is always acting out of fear.
The inner critic wants you to feel good and to do well. However, it operates on the thinking level of a child; one who believes that what others think of us is the only thing that matters. Trying to fight or ignore your inner critic does not help free you from it. Instead, listen to it with compassion and curiosity. While the inner critic never goes away, it can become useful if you can avoid getting hooked by its fear and judgments.
Here's an exercise to help you connect to your inner critic so you can understand what it's trying to protect you from. Understanding your inner critic's fears can help you cultivate compassion for it, and as a result have compassion for the part of you that's still carrying childhood wounds.
1. Draw and describe your inner critic. Give it a name. What color is it? How big is it? How does it dress? What does it say? The more description you can give, the better.
2. Journal your feelings about your inner critic. Does your inner critic make you feel angry, sad, nervous or maybe you feel comforted by it? Don't censor your thoughts. Write down whatever comes to mind.
3. Ask your inner critic what its goals are when it goes into attack mode. Is your inner critic trying to protect you? If so, what is it protecting you from? Perhaps it's protecting you from feelings of pain, humiliation or shame.
4. Validate your inner critic's concerns. For instance, you can let it know that you recognize that it's coming from a good place. You may want to reassure your inner critic that you're capable of handling the situation and no longer need its protection. Notice how your inner critic reacts to your response.
5. How do you want to react the next time your inner critic appears? Keep in mind that your inner critic is trying to protect you. Now that you know what its concerns are, you can for example, thank your inner critic for its feedback and for looking out for you. You can also reassure your inner critic that you have the situation under control.
I can't stress enough the importance of connecting to your inner critic from a place of compassion and curiosity. This exercise helped me understand my inner critic's fears and what it was trying to protect me from. Now I experience freedom from my inner critic and live my life fully. Give this exercise a try, and let me know how it goes.
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