No one really wants to notice how much they are criticised internally because basically it sucks. It’s painful and for the most part we can get along OK by ignoring it.
But what if you can’t get along OK like this?
What if inner criticism is stopping you living your life, trying new things, wearing what you want to wear, setting goals and working towards them, taking risks, falling in love, having children…
Because we don’t talk about it much, many people it’s just them who suffers with inner criticism, but the sad fact is that almost everyone is suffering with inner criticism to some extent. And sometimes you have to do something about it in order to live a good life.
This will only hurt a little…
One of the first steps, and honestly the most difficult, is to start to notice it. I say difficult because as we become aware of inner criticism, we become aware of how much we have been suffering. We connect with our own pain (all that stuff we’ve been valiantly ignoring for most of our lives) and this involves feeling things like sadness, hurt, grief and hopelessness. Not the best sales pitch I know, but the good news is this part doesn’t have to last all that long. Noticing suffering is actually less painful than ignoring it, weird but true.
In this article we’ll look at six broad categories of ways that inner criticism can be experienced (although the options may be endless).
Inner Criticism is a Communication Exchange
Inner criticism (and outer criticism for that matter) is a communication exchange and therefore requires two parts; a sender (the critical figure) and a receiver (the victim of the critic). It also involves a channel of communication (the six categories); content (the intended message), and a style that influences/dictates the nature of the relationship between the two parts.
Because for most people inner criticism has been a significant part of their internal environment for a long time, it has become the norm and therefore many of these communication exchanges slip under the radar of awareness. Understanding some of the communication channels criticism can happen in helps us become more aware of when we are experiencing criticism.
Watch the video
Auditory Inner Criticism
Many people experience inner criticism as something they hear internally. It’s like a running commentary in our heads telling us we did something stupid, or we’re being lazy, too slow, not motivated enough, we should do this, shouldn’t feel that…etc etc. This can be called an auditory experience of inner criticism, because we are hearing critical commentary. We would also call it an auditory experience when we say critical things about ourselves – “I’m so stupid”; “What was I thinking!”; “I’d lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on” – that kind of thing. Self-deprecating humour and sarcastic comments towards ourselves can also be auditory experiences of inner criticism.
Visual Inner Criticism
Inner criticism can be a visual experience when our night time dreams include critical figures or symbols (because dreams are largely visual experiences). Criticism triggered by seeing ourselves (in mirrors for instance), or feeling highly uncomfortable being filmed or photographed can also be visual inner criticism. Being critical of how we look is also, in part, a kind of visual experience.
Movement Inner Criticism
Sometimes the way we move our body can indicate a critical dynamic is at play. A hurried, rushed pace to get somewhere, slapping yourself on the forehead, impatient drumming of fingers, can all be criticism experienced through movement. Aggressive or dangerous driving, and small accidents like stubbing your toe, knocking your elbow etc, and some postural stances (slumped shoulders for example) can also be inner criticism experienced through movement.
Proprioceptive (somatic) Inner Criticism
Inner criticism can also be experience through the feelings in our body (called proprioception) and could be almost anything. Feeling like the gravity dial has been turned up; migraines and headaches; constricted throat; shallow breathing are all possible examples. Comfort food cravings are also proprioceptive experiences that can indicate a critical internal state.
Projected Inner Critics
One of the most common ways of experiencing inner criticism is by projecting it onto others. When we project it onto strangers or the world in general, we can call it a world channel experience of inner criticism. When we project it onto people we are close to, we can call it a relationship channel experience.
Inner Critics Projected Onto The World Around Us
When we are projecting inner criticism into the world, we can feel uncomfortable in groups, self conscious when we walk into a restaurant full of people, or overwhelmed at the idea of public speaking. We might also think the world is against us, or that we have bad karma. Anthropomorphising inanimate objects and thinking they are against us (like the stupid, evil stapler that won’t bind the pages properly) could also be a projection of inner criticism.
Inner Critics Projected Onto Our Relationships
When we are projecting onto people we know we fantasize that they think negatively of us, or about a particular character trait or behaviour of ours. It can be quite common for both parties in a relationship to project inner criticism onto each other, and both feel as if they are being harassed or criticised by the other. This can then make us erroneously interpret what others say or do as being critical. For instance, if we are critical towards ourselves about being messy around the house, when we see our partner tidying up we might think it is a critical gesture directed at us, albeit covertly, when in fact they are just doing some innocent tidying.
Let’s Mix It Up!!
So that’s the six categories (or channels); auditory, visual, movement, proprioceptive, world and relationship. If that wasn’t enough though, often inner criticism is experienced in several channels at once – for example when we slap our hand on our forehead and say “That was stupid”, it’s both movement and auditory. Shaky hands before and during a public presentation might be both movement and world.
But what there’s more…
Noticing the earliest signals of when we are being mean to ourselves is the first step in understanding and transforming these experiences, all on our way to more confidence. The next (let’s pretend this is a linear thing) is to learn to protect ourselves.
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