When I was about five or six, while on my bicycle, I rode out in front of a moving car. Luckily, the driver slammed on the brakes and came within inches of hitting me. It occurred outside of my great uncle’s home, who happened to be the town’s police chief. He was quite the intimidating figure, even to the most hardened criminal. He witnessed the incident, began yelling at me, and ordered me to go home immediately. I cried all the way home and not wanting my mother to see me so upset, thus making me tell her of my error, I sat in the woods across from my home until I calmed down. That little girl was swimming in shame.
This is the face of my Critic, the intimidating police chief.
The Critic is like my great uncle. It originated from a place of protection, caring, and guiding us when we, like children, are not mature enough to protect ourselves. The primary goal was to keep us safe. But as we mature and grow, the Critic should mature as well; moving from an outside influence into an internal influence—our mature self. Nowhere are we taught this so we continue to live with this external voice.
Good news is, there is something we can do about it!
We can’t work with something we cannot first recognize. Learning to catch the Critic running its script requires us to be able to hear it in action. This requires presence. Simply, keeping our attention placed on what is happening now. Our attention is usually placed on what happened in the past or anticipating what will happen in the future. Without presence, we don’t hear the Critic; we just feel the effects of it—judgement and shame.
Developing the ability to be present is like building muscle; it takes time and repeated practice. With continued effort, it becomes easier.
Tips and Tricks
Meditation is an excellent practice for developing presence. There are some wonderful apps for guided meditation. YouTube also has some excellent meditations. Best bet is to find a meditation group in your community, as working with a group may be easier and more affective for some folks.
Yoga is an excellent practice for developing presence, as it grounds us in our body and connects us to our breath.
My personal favorite, and often recommend to my clients, is a mindfulness bell. I use an app called Insight Timer and set it to chime every 15 minutes. The chime is a reminder to stop, breathe, and bring awareness to what is happening now, both in the environment and internally.
Give Your Critic an Identity
We often believe the Critic is our own voice but it is not. It is an external voice. Learning to see it as something other than ourselves is helpful in separating and overcoming it. To this end, give it an identity.
What does it look like? Is it a person or perhaps, a creature or animal? Give it a name. What color, size, or shape is it?
Tips and Tricks
Draw a picture of your Critic. Or go through a magazine or online and find an image that fits. Place the image or picture on the fridge or mirror; somewhere it can stay top of mind.
When you catch the Critic rearing its head, call it out by name.
As you work on developing presence and catching the Critic in the act, you begin to develop space between your thoughts and your reactions. It is within this space that we have the ability to begin to mature our self talk and grow toward a healthier relationship with ourselves.