Do you have inner critics?
One day, a client of mine went to a coffee shop. After she ordered a cup of cappuccino, she saw a lady beside her handed in a coffee mug to the cashier when she was ordering. My client’s inner voice criticised herself for being not environmentally friendly as she did not bring her own mug. She felt disappointed at herself and left the coffee shop with the cappuccino in a paper cup with shame. This example may be a bit extreme. However, if we are mindful of our own thoughts in different situations, it is easy for us to spot similar critical inner voice inside us.
There are two types of inner critics. One is the inner voice being critical and punitive. In our childhood, if our parents are critical, we may internalised their criticism and punishment. We then become overly self-critical and thought we deserved punishment for not meeting the standard. Another type of inner voice is very demanding. The inner voice will keep pushing oneself to meet excessively high standard. This inner voice tells the person that the way of living is to be perfect.
If we believe what our inner critics say is right, we will feel bad about ourselves and try very hard to overcompensate our weaknesses. How to reduce the impact of our inner critics? The first step is to be aware of our automatic critical thoughts. The more we are being mindful of our negative thoughts when we feel some negative emotions, such as shame, disappointment or sadness. The more we can use some strategies to reduce the impact of those thoughts. One of these simple strategies could be simply just name the inner critical thought. For example, my client in the coffee shop can name her inner voice, Alpha, whenever it criticises her. She may say, “Alpha is saying something again”. In this way, my client can easily recognise her inner critical voice is just a thought but not a truth.
Being self-critical may be functional sometimes in our life. However, in the extreme, this will make us seeing ourselves too low and pushing ourselves too harsh. Let’s learn to be more self-compassionate together and have a peaceful way of living.