Understanding Your Inner Critic (and how to turn it down)
The Internal Voice and Soundtrack that drives, slows, or changes us.
"Oh, they do not like you."
"You really haven't taken care of yourself, that is why you feel like this."
Have you ever had one of those days where it feels like you don’t even want to be in your own mind?
Where you’re the bad guy?
The days when you hear this voice constantly telling you that you’re not enough?
Let me tell you about the Inner Critic.
These voices are present for everyone and have their own special way of making us feel all the bad feels.
The Inner Critic is derived from our earliest caregivers or influences and maximizes our insecurities.
According to The Happier Approach by Nancy Jane Smith, there are three parts to the inner critic (find this book here) :
The Biggest Fan (but I like to call it The Advocate)
First Up, The Monger
The Monger is the voice that is there to protect you from failing. This one promotes anxiety and shame and really doesn’t believe in you most of the time. Think, devil on your shoulder, if you will.
Smith puts it best when she identifies the three points of the Monger's job: "1. Don’t make a mistake, 2. Don't Stand Out, 3. Don’t be too vulnerable."
For perfectionists with High Functioning Anxiety, the Monger keeps moving the finish line. You never feel like you’ve actually completed something because there is always something you haven't completed. "The Monger lives in absolutes (Smith, 2018)." But these absolutes are actually myths that the Monger identifies as truths. Think of this like, "I will be happy if I loose 20 pounds," or "I will be happy if I get that promotion." It really isn't the best defining point of "how you will actually be happy" but an absolute that the Monger (and you) have created to believe.
Next, The BFF
Let's move onto The BFF. When we get sick of hearing criticism from the Monger we often shift to our BFF. This always reminds me of the friend you have that promotes going out on a Tuesday night, even though you have a big event at work or school on Wednesday. The BFF can go overboard really quickly but always has your back.
The BFF is the self-soother. The one that says, "you're always right and they're always wrong," or "you deserve whatever you want," or "have fun, let loose, you deserve it." The problem with the BFF is that very quickly it turns into "false self-compassion" or procrastination.
The biggest problem with the BFF is that he/she/it enjoys the moments but sits in a lot of avoidance. It is fun and easy to listen to the BFF but sooner or later the Monger will creep in and remind you how "nothing is getting done."
Here is an example: I want you to think of a negative emotion you have experienced and then a negative coping skill that has followed. Maybe you had a tough day at work so you drink to excess that night and wake up with a nasty hangover. The BFF promoted the self-soothing and the Monger magically appears in the morning to tell you how awful you are.
And Most Importantly, The Advocate
And then we have my personal favorite: The Biggest Fan. But for this post, I'm going to call it The Advocate. Because to me, a fan reminds me of a follower and The Advocate reminds me of the in between, the reality, the supporter. The Advocate is the "how." How you complete your goals and providing safety and security while also supporting you without covering it up with false self-compassion.
Most of us do not think that we hear The Advocate. When I explain this to my clients, I often tell them to think of a secure or safe voice that they hear when they need it the most. The Advocate is wise and honest, almost to a point where it can feel like a punishment, but it is not. It is the mediator.
For example: you go out after work with some coworkers to have some drinks and dinner. The Advocate pops in and says, "Hey, you're enjoying yourself and you deserve this, but let's just have a couple drinks. You've been killing it on your workouts and you can enjoy yourself without drinking anymore. Plus, you will likely feel better tomorrow if you don't over do it." Or…"This meeting coming up seems really intimidating. Maybe we should do a bit more prep and research before we walk in. It may have some hard moments but we will get through this. You got this."
The Advocate truly has our back. They can sit with you in the reality of the situation but also remind you of things that can come up. But gracefully, not with shame or guilt or over indulgence.
Oof, But Now What?
When we learn to understand these voices and the soundtrack that is going on within our minds we can begin to create a new alliance with our thinking, our anxiety, and our perfectionism.
As a Recovering Perfectionist I often pull on The Advocate and it sounds a lot like, "I know you want things to go this way, but this isn't something you are in charge of and if you set an expectation you could be let down. So, let's just take a moment and see how this plays out."
Perfectionism is very much driven by the Monger. As you start to notice these controllers within your head you will also start to hear and notice them with others. I typically call these out with coaching and therapy so that you can begin to recognize when you're being too hard on yourself or when you're not getting enough one-on-one time with your Advocate.
Here Are 3 Things To Try Now To Lower Your Inner Critic (Monger):
Bring out the internal and put it into the external world.
What I mean by this is that our thoughts seem quite loud and true when they are held within our minds where no one else can hear them. This procedure of pulling the internal out into the external is very common within therapy or coaching when you have a professional hearing your thoughts and analyzing what you are thinking.
One time, I had a client tell me..."I can see your disapproving look in my head and that look on your face that says: how can I get her to see this a different way?"
This may be my clinical face...but it's not a bad face, it's a face that challenges individuals thoughts about themselves. It's a face that says "no, I see you and these thoughts that you're having are not facts but rather lowering your self esteem, making you feel like you're not enough and not worthy"...which is nonsense.
So, here is what I recommend first: write it down, record it, text yourself.
When the Monger (in particular) comes up, I want you to write it out, bring it out. This can be by talking to yourself out-loud (preferably in a confidential space), write it if you feel more comfortable. It can be an email or text to yourself.
If you really need to challenge yourself, video record yourself. Regardless, get it out WITH the recognition that THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS, these are just thoughts.
2. Imagine that you're sitting with your best friend or partner.
After you have written down or spoken aloud the thoughts and insecurities that the Monger is bringing up. I want you to decide if you would tell your best friend, partner, or basically any human the things that you are telling yourself right now.
You probably wouldn't. What you would probably realize is that you're being quite harsh on yourself and you don't really have a real reason to be.
If you need too, reach out to that friend or partner. Tell them the thoughts. Ask them what they think.
3. Find your Advocate Voice.
Truthfully, this is the hardest step in the process. But I want you to think about the person who makes you feel the most safe, the most protected. The person that regardless of the circumstance they would be there for you no matter what.
If you do not have this person, pick a celebrity or someone you look up to for reference.
I want you to tell me what they would say to you in this situation. I want you to pull on this person that you feel the most comfortable with to provide you the real, the actual facts and to pull out your insecurities so you can readjust, take a break and step back into the world without the shame and doubt of yourself from that mean ole' Monger.
If you need help or are interested in learning more about the Inner Critic feel free to reach out to me. Also, I have an Inner Critic Freebie that you get for signing up on my email list. Be sure to check it out!!