How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Inner Critic
The new year brings about many resolutions and motivations for new goals. While that may be a confidence booster, it can also bring severe anxiety and stress. It is often thought of that depression is more of a seducer while anxiety is a guerrilla ambush, attacking you when you least expect it in times where you feel nothing could go wrong. And in the vanguard, stands your inner critic, looking like something out of Mad Max Fury Road. In addition to being a looming presence that just wants to rain on your parade, it’s also an emotion that has a hidden on/off switch. It can take so much emotional effort to just refuse to go away even when you’ve exhausted your coping techniques.
The inner critic or “critical inner voice” is a concept referring to the sub-personality (kind of like the internal angel/devil conversations in media) that judges and demeans a person. It’s when you internally produce feelings of shame, low self-esteem, self-doubt, dependence, and low self-confidence that can trigger depression or anxiety episodes. Psychologists Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss identified seven common types of inner critics that manifest differently in various individuals; from the perfectionist, the taskmaster, the inner controller, the guilt tripper, the destroyer, the underminer, and the molder.
Many psychologists use either the response “treat it as a foe” or “treat it as an ally” in working with individuals depending on how it manifests. But the commonality between the two is acknowledging that the inner-critic is there rather than submerging it in our subconscious.
For me, anxiety is that very same inner-critic that lives in my head and makes me feel distrustful and paranoid of all those around me. It takes me through all the worst-case scenarios of my decisions and just loves to remind myself of those embarrassing or humiliating moments back from middle school. I have tools such as warrior rocks, a Nike training app, and plushies on my bed that try and alleviate this critic. I even have emergency mantras I whip out like I’m about to start an exorcism on myself.
It is often possible to manage anxiety by trying actively to replace the irrational, even trivial thoughts with more balanced and reasonable redirection but a new method for me comes from a thought I thought would be impossible to consider. And that’s just accepting what the inner critic is saying.
I’m not in the mental health field nor wish to diagnose those with any chronic form of anxiety. It’s my firm belief that effective coping for anxiety is individual-based so what may work for others may not work for you.
Validation of fears or anxieties is sometimes a thing we are trained to see as the thing we shouldn’t mid-panic attack but I make it into a game. A fun game where you detox those anxieties into statements more grounded in reality and believing that reality.
1. I try to create and repeat myself a sentence for the thought that is triggering me. I formulate into a general statement using I statements, capturing the emotion I am feeling and the cause and effect: “I am feeling nervous because I did not hear back from this person,” or, “Because I did not hear back from this person, I feel nervous.”
2. I try to notice any physical signs that the thought is getting me. I notice my breathing, my heart beats, if I’m shaking. Have water near me or decaffeinated tea (nothing stimulating)
3. I have a grounding object near me that I can hold on it. Grounding your emotions is key, no matter what the object is.
4. I then try to find out what is making me feel this way. Why am I feeling this way of someone not getting back to me? I try to make a mental list of these whys and repeat them to myself
5. I then counter those reasons with rational thoughts. They don’t want to talk to me is instead they must be busy with other things and that’s ok. Or, they are probably laughing at me is instead they must be processing what I’m saying and are just gathering the right words for a response.
6. I try repeating those counters three times. Closing my eyes, holding my grounding object and knowing that I am in a comfortable space with no distractions.
7. Acknowledge your thoughts and those redirections, then go do something you like doing or resume your routine.
The key is to not say to yourself that you are stupid for thinking of these thoughts or being irrational. Rather, it’s to help ground yourself back in reality without getting your thoughts racing. Grounding yourself helps ease the stress of the attack. Stress management is very subjective based on what makes you feel at ease so if this does not work for you then that’s fine.
Grounding and redirection can play a dual role in coping with the inner critic without throwing back into the loop of an anxiety cycle. This can be exacerbated during the holidays and all that may be happening in the news. Yet it is important to sit back and recognize that these are normal and can be sedated.
What are your strategies for coping with anxiety or intrusive thoughts? Write back to us with #illumentors!
- Stinckens, Nele; Lietaer, Germain; Leijssen, Mia (March 2002). “The inner critic on the move: analysis of the change process in a case of short-term client-centred/experiential therapy”. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 2 (1): 40
- Earley, Jay; Weiss, Bonnie (2010). Self-therapy for your inner critic: transforming self-criticism into self-confidence. Larkspur, CA: Pattern System Books. ISBN 9780984392711. OCLC 728324364