The constant harsh self-criticism is crippling. The fear of not performing up to the mark traps us. Instead of moving ahead, we freeze.
It paralyzed me too.
I had endless drafts I kept on editing. Sometimes I jumped from one topic to another. I had countless stories to share.
But my inner critic slithers its head upwards and bit me endlessly. It took me five months to post my first long article. I took matters head-on to set my inner critic straight.
I found out instead of encouraging me to write more, I fanned my fears. Crazy! Isn’t it?
Self-criticism affects us all. We all judge ourselves, our actions, or words. The silent voice of judgment discourages us. It reasons you are not enough. This inner critic is one of the hush-hush enemies that hinder your growth.
The vital instinct of the primitive brain is survival. It looks out for dangers. The inner critic's primary function is to protect the body from outside threats and inner psychological balance.
But this self-criticism can be catastrophic. Even in a relaxed environment, the mind does not cease to over-analyze the seemingly innocuous things.
‘You can’t follow your passion. You don’t have it inside to make it big. You are not good at studies or profession. You lack genuine friends. You look fat and ugly. You are a loser.’
This constant chatter of self-depreciation impairs physical and emotional well-being, affecting relations as well. It leads to procrastination, low self-confidence, anxiety, fear, frustration and creates roadblocks to uncover your full potential.
With some diligence, it is possible to overcome destructive self-criticism.
#1. Be Aware of Your Inner Critic
The first step to overcome inner criticism is to be aware of it.
The fear of publishing my drafts hid in plain sight. I conveniently ignored my long list of drafts until I became true to myself. That was the turning point for me. Even in the face of fear, I know what I had to work on.
“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” — Naoto Kan
Without knowing the problem, you can never solve it. Scientists have inferred that the human brain thinks about a whooping 6000 thoughts per day.
The thinking process is automatic. Most of the time, you are unaware of these thoughts. No one can know the series of thoughts racing.
How to be aware of your inner critic:
Psychology reveals that a regular thinking pattern generates a specific emotional wave. Be aware of the emotional burst. It can come as anxiety, fear, guilt, shame.
Identifying your genuine feelings helps you cope efficiently. Next time when an intense wave of emotions plague you:
- Take a break from whatever you are doing.
- Sit and relax for few moments.
- Reflect on your dense feelings.
- Analyze the situation, triggering your emotions and thoughts.
- Journal your emotions, recognize the thoughts, understand their pattern.
You can refer to the previous journal entries to understand your emotions in a better way. You can also figure out the frequency and sensitivity with which the inner critic gets triggered.
Awareness of thoughts can help you respond better while dealing with the primitive thought process in your flight and fight mode.
#2. Be Compassionate — Treat Yourself Like a Child
Whenever I feel sad about something, I literally embrace myself. I feel safe in my arms. I don’t have to explain anything. I allow the love to flow from me to me.
Just as you are compassionate for someone you care about, be kind and patient with yourself too. Lovingly accept your flaws and gently guide the self.
After years of research, Kristin Neff, a world-renowned expert on self-compassion, has deduced:
Self-compassion is the antidote for self-criticism.
Allow yourself to fall. You can rise and try again. Be considerate and kind when you beat yourself up for minor reasons.
How to be self-compassionate:
- When you notice the patterns of self-critic and negative self-talk, place your hands on the heart.
- Imagine your heart as a tiny baby.
- Caress your heart. Gently rub it.
- Convey in your words how much you love it. My words are, ‘You have bore enough. It is ok to let go. You have done what you could. It is ok to feel anger, frustration. I love you. I truly do.’ You can change the words according to your feelings.
- Allow any emotions to arise. Don’t judge. Embrace your tears or anything that comes to the surface. Let love fill your heart.
- Hug your heart until you feel better.
#3. Create a Gap Between the Critic and You
Psychologists have inferred that distance self-talk reduces emotional reactivity. The gap helps to dissociate from the feeling of victimhood and understand the situation in a better way.
When I am aware of my inner war, I silently retreat and observe negative talk bombardment. I watch my internal conflict. Instead of saying, “I can’t write properly. I can’t go out of my comfort zone. I am such a loser.”
I suggest, “Look, ‘Masala’ is bashing herself for not being a perfect writer. She thinks she is not good enough.”
When I feel overwhelmed by inner critic bashing, I step inside the role of a caring mother. I respond, “Sometimes it is important to grow outside the comfort zone. It is helpful. You never know what lies outside your circle. It might even surprise you. Let us take baby steps and do one thing at a time. Then we will see how it goes.”
Instead of an actor, I first become a spectator and (if required) then a mother to myself.
The mind can create an overwhelming wildfire of thoughts. Experiencing the gap can dawn a remarkable clarity. There is a great significance given to this gap in spirituality as well. In a profound sense, it paves the way for spiritual awakening.
“It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.” — Osho
How to create a gap between yourself and your inner critic:
- Put a name on your inner critic. I have given the name ‘Masala.’ (Masala is a Hindi word for varying blend of spices. Like different spices, my thought process varies, ranging from fiery to cool.)
TIP: Though I have given it a hilarious name, you can name it something soothing too. It will resonate with love whenever you call it. (One of my friends has named it ‘Beloved.’)
- After you notice the inner war creating a rift, call your inner critic by that name. Associate all the feelings with that critic.
- Then, like any spectator with no judgments, let the actor go. Let the inner critic go. Let the ‘Masala’ go.
- Don’t forget to be sympathetic to ‘Masala.’
By creating a gap, you realize you are not the thought process. You have the independence to choose and respond rather than be a slave of simmering Masala.
#4. Replace the Critical Language with an Accurate and Practical Relevance
When emotions overwhelm, you easily flow with them, too.
Scientific studies have proved that over-analyses lead to mental blockages. It also affects mental health.
Many times, ‘Masala’ bogged me down with its constant background negative chatter. The drag was too much to bear. Because of the pressure, I procrastinated. The fear of writing shitty posts acted like a bear trap. I could not wiggle out of it.
The fear sounded alien when I sat down to write with the willingness to learn the writing process. A head-on collision with the fear made me free from my thought process. To sit with it and the zeal to cut through my crippling fear helped me.
Self-critic swamps you with a heavy density of emotions, drowning the peace. There is an enormous difference between entertaining a specific belief and the fact. When you segregate yourselves from the situation, you see the bigger picture.
You understand yourself and empathize with others when you don’t become attached to your own stories.
How to replace critical language:
- Take regular pauses in your routine.
- Ground yourself. Connect with nature regularly. Mother Earth grounds you instantly.
- Sometimes, things are not as bad as ‘Masala’ makes them. Keep the weight of mind down for a few minutes and then analyze and make a plan.
- With a calm mind, take stock of your current situation from different angles. Weigh the pros and cons. With a fresh perspective, you can discern things you could not observe at first.
- Take concrete actions wherever required. It boosts your confidence.
If your situation involves others, intently listen to them. Listen to understand, not to answer back. Open your heart while listening.
You will notice everyone struggles with their problems and their unique ‘Masalas.’ When you understand others, your actions stem from kindness and compassion.
#5. Release the Repetitive Negative Talk
Often we drown in our heartaches. For a new start, we brush it off under the carpet. But the suppression does not help. The density of negativity trails us for long.
Scientific research points out that suppressing negative emotions in daily life is likely to yield a more negative emotional experience that lingers afterward.
Don’t run from this negativity. Instead, acknowledge it.
It took me five months to be aware and overcome my fear of publishing. Rejections from major publications added fuel to my self-critic. I was desperate to write. I had many stories.
But the constant inner nagger impaled me. Once I accepted its rough talks in all its crudeness, I became relaxed to move forward.
Your ‘Masala’ creates immense density by repeating negative talks thousands of times. Recognize the negative emotions brimming inside.
How to release inner negativity:
- Lock yourself in an isolated room.
- Play music at a loud volume.
- Cry and scream aloud for as long as you want. Behave as if things are out of hands. Feel the helplessness.
- Kick and punch in the air.
- Let every emotion and criticism be out of your system. With no judgments, let everything come to the surface. Provide an outlet to these chronic emotions and feelings. Do this till it exhausts you.
- You can also write your uncensored, raw feelings. Let them flow all. Bombard everything on it.
- Burn that paper.
- Kick the ash of paper till you feel relieved.
If done regularly, these techniques provide an outlet. Free yourself from the negativity that you unknowingly suppress.
#6. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is not something esoteric. It is a way of living. Mindfulness anchor you in the present moment. When you are in the past or the future, self-critic echoes — judging/blaming self or anxious for future events.
I am practicing mindfulness for years. It has helped me to be aware of my reactions and decisions. By being present here and now, fears don’t bite me as often as they used to.
“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.” — James Thurber
Being mindful of your acts leads to living in the present. Life is unfolding in this ‘Now.’ But the mind fantasies about the future or sad about the past. By centering yourself, you effortlessly navigate through life situations.
How to practice mindfulness:
Start from 10 minutes of mindfulness practice. Gradually expand it to include in everyday activity.
By including your five senses, mindfulness becomes easy to practice.
- Take one activity from routine. For instance, walking.
- Walk slowly. Be fully aware of your every step.
- Feel the movement of one foot forward. Feel the ground.
- Feel the air blowing through your face. Is it a cool breeze or a slow wind?
- Be aware of breathing. Is it shallow or deep? Is it fast or slow?
- Smell the aroma of grass, or wet ground, or any flower. Be conscious of it. Breath deeply while enjoying these scents of mother earth.
- Watch the grass, greenery, or your walking track. Did you miss the tiny flowers blooming alongside the route?
This activity slows you down. Society has trained you to speed your way in life. The real magic lies in slowing down. Bask in life’s every color. Slowing down means slowing your critic as well.
Remember, you are listening to yourself, 24x7. Make that blabbering into something more constructive.
Create a distance between you and your inner leg-puller. Look at things and situations objectively. Release the weight of negative emotions. Be mindful and compassionate.
“Let’s not allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. Remember, Life is too short to be little.” — Dale Carnegie.
Take baby steps, pragmatically. Do not hide your unique light. Accept your imperfections and plan accordingly to move towards greater heights.
It is never too late to be your best version. Celebrate yourself!