Quietening your inner critic
Our inner critic has a nasty habit of talking to us on a regular basis and getting in the way of our self-compassion practice or kindness to self. In order to get that inner voice to quieten down, we firstly have to catch the thoughts or messages that our inner critic is transmitting before they impact on our emotions and behaviours. This is no mean feat because these thoughts can enter our minds without us noticing and so practice makes perfect. Practicing on a daily basis is important because it’s not until we’ve caught these thoughts that we can do something about them and thus stop them impacting on our emotions and actions.
So when our inner critic sends us these disruptive messages, such as ‘you’ve made a right mess of that, as usual’; ‘you might as well give up now’; ‘no one will ever love you’; ‘you should have said no’; ‘you ought to try harder’; ‘you never do it right’; we need to remember that these are thoughts and we are not our thoughts; these are just thoughts that enter our mind but they don’t define us.
Then, rather than listening to the inner critic, who may be based on someone from our past socialisation process such as a carer, parent, teacher, boss, we can practice mindfulness on a regular basis to diminish the voice inside our head. Sometimes, our inner critic has become our best friend and so it’s hard to end that relationship, it can take time. We don’t know exactly how it works, although it’s likely to do with neuroplasticity and practicing new thoughts that induce a kinder, more supportive voice, but mindfulness meditation can help us.
Remembering your goodness
If you find yourself ruminating on the things you regret and the mistakes you’ve made and your inner critic keeps reinforcing how badly you’ve done, try this exercise, originally created by Sharon Salzberg, an expert in mindfulness and self-compassion. It will help you redirect your thoughts and attention to the goodness and kindness you have inside of you. This practice is not intended to deny mistakes, which you can learn from but to stop your inner critic from continuing to reinforce what they think is bad about you; simply judging you, which is just going to lead to pain and self-disappointment. When you recognize and reflect on even one good thing about yourself, you are building a bridge to a place of kindness and caring. This all links to the work of Martin Seligman, Barbara Frederickson and others in the field of positive psychology who focus on building strengths rather than focusing more on what you need to develop.
Sit comfortably in a relaxed, easy posture and close your eyes. Now bring to mind one thing you have done or said recently that you feel was kind or good.
It does not have to be something huge. Maybe you smiled at someone or listened to them, maybe you let go of your annoyance at someone, maybe you were generous, maybe you sat down to meditate, maybe you thanked someone.
Or you might think of a quality or skill in yourself that you like or appreciate. Perhaps you are really patient with a friend or family member, or, maybe you’re really good at helping others to learn.
If you still find yourself caught up in self-criticism, turn your attention to the mere fact that you have an urge toward happiness. There is kindness and beauty in that. Or simply remember that all beings everywhere want to be happy and say to yourself ‘may I be well, may I be happy, may I be loved’.
Never feel ashamed of your longing for happiness. Remember that this is one of your rights.
If any thoughts, impatience or judgments arise during this meditation, simply thank them for arriving, without judgement, but then quickly let them float away like leaves falling from a tree. Then return to the meditation.