How to Recognize (and Quiet) Your Inner Critic
We all have one.
The little voice inside our heads that tells us there is something wrong with us. That we don’t do anything right. That we aren’t working hard enough. That we aren’t good enough. Skinny enough. Fit enough. Successful enough.
Some people call it the inner critic. The gremlin. The ego. The monkey mind. The noise.
I call it the soldier.
I like to call it the soldier because—from an evolutionary standpoint—its purpose is to protect us and keep us safe. It is a relic of the days when human culture was tribal and our survival literally depended on fitting into the group. If you didn’t pull your weight and fit in, you’d be booted out to the wilderness to fend for yourself, which was certain death.
Thankfully, human culture has evolved and we no longer face certain death if we are not accepted by the cool kids, but the soldier keeps soldiering on using its weapons of choice—fear, shame, judgement, perfectionism, guilt—to make sure that we stay safe, comfortable, and well liked.
Another reason why I like to call my inner critic “the soldier” is because who doesn’t like a soldier? My gosh, I am so grateful for the soldiers who protect our country and my interests. Similarly, the soldier in our minds deserves our respect and compassion. Reviling it, discrediting it, and hating it merely doubles down on the shame and judgement and does nothing to cancel it out—it only makes us feel worse. It genuinely is trying to protect you and keep you safe (i.e.: keep you from being cast out into the wilderness to be mauled by a saber-toothed tiger).
There is nothing inherently “bad” or “wrong” about the soldier; it is when we actually BELIEVE the fear-based thoughts that it plants that we find ourselves stuck, down on ourselves, and in a spiral of never feeling like we are enough.
Luckily there is another voice inside of us that we CAN believe: our Soul (or Intuition). That is the voice that desires happiness, growth, and the realization of our full potential. While the soldier is the Earthly voice that fears failure, solitude, and death, the Soul knows that we came into this world perfect manifestations of divine light and love, and that that is who we are at our core. The most important work that we can do on ourselves is learn to tap into that soul voice and follow its guidance.
The problem that I hear so often from clients and friends is that they think that the soldier is what motivates them to change. The shame of “falling off the wagon” motivates them to start a new diet on Monday. The judgement they feel from not being able to zip their favorite jeans gets them into the gym at 5 a.m.
I get that. I used to think that too.
But the truth is that sustainable long-term change is motivated by love, never fear. You may achieve your goal in the short-term, but you will not find happiness if you are motivated by shame and fear because love is a far more powerful emotion. If fear is a soldier, love is an army.
So if you have spent your life trying to eat healthy because you are afraid of being fat, the work is to eat healthy because you love and respect your body and want it to feel good.
If you go to the gym out of fear of gaining weight or not being healthy, try exercising because it feels good.
There is a huge difference.
The trick to turning down your inner critic and not allowing it to run your life is to realize that you are not your thoughts. You do not have to believe them.
Also, it helps to personify the voice by giving it a name or identity like the soldier, or you can even name it after the class bully in 4th grade or the grouchy old lady that lived on your street growing up. The point is to recognize that the inner critic is not your truth and you do not have to believe it.
And ask yourself: Am I doing this from a place of love or fear?
The path to happiness, to authenticity, and to feeling whole and fulfilled is always through love.
So the next time your soldier kicks in and starts comparing you to that “perfect” girl who is fit, successful, in love, and has it all together, thank your soldier for looking out, but remind her that you are going to choose something more loving to be the best version of YOU that you can be.