That was a phrase my grandfather used to say whenever someone who had a tendency to be critical or "judgey" would enter the room. I can hear him say this loud and clear when I start to critique myself whether it be as a mom, friend, wife or coach.
When the inner critic starts to hurl threats and insults at you, your brain responds as if it is literally being attacked. You brain believes that something is trying to harm you, and it sends your nervous system into high alert. Your body immediately shifts into fight, flight, or freeze mode and the rest of you responds accordingly. And your brain is right, something is trying to harm you. But in this case, the attack is coming from the inside, not from the outside.
Often this will look like urges to run away or the sensation of being numb, feeling stuck, an increase in self-criticism, feelings of anxiety, difficulty with language, no confidence, no access to creativity, an expectation of something terrible happening, depression, release of cortisol (the stress hormone), fear, obsessive negative thoughts, and an inability to do your best.
The good news, you can feel calmer, more centered, and more grounded immediately. It’s pretty simple, be nice to yourself. Sounds easy and basic, but if you’re anything like me, you inundate yourself with critical talk and downright meanness throughout the day. My critic sounds something like this: you could have done better, you messed that up, why aren’t you getting x, y, and z done like you are supposed to…and that’s just the short list. Does this resonate with you? The critic is often on high alert, and on the lookout for any reason to attack.
But the critic can be calmed.
I found one powerful tool – changing my inner critic voice to one that resembles how I would talk to my five-year-old self. This caused a major shift in my perspective. Would I speak to a child the way I speak to myself? Absolutely not. It’s not easy to do this and it doesn’t happen overnight but what it looks like for me is allowing myself to have feelings, notice my feelings, and validate my feelings. It means acknowledging when I feel overwhelmed, allowing myself to take breaks, and trusting that I don’t have to have it all figured out. It means I get to use my voice and be seen and heard even if I am not perfect. And I don’t berate myself when I slip back into critical mode.
Now I like to think of my critical part as a child that has been put in charge and just doesn’t know how to behave. Because she’s a CHILD. When I see this part of me in this way, it dramatically changes my perspective. Instead of a scary intimidating monster, I see my critic for what she really is—a scared part of me that is trying to keep me safe from harm. The more I can acknowledge her feelings, let her know everything will be ok, and tell her that no one is going to get in trouble, the more she can relax and calm down, the nicer I can be to myself.
As the saying goes, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
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