I just turned 59 last week. I have mixed emotions. On one hand I still feel like I’m 30, but my body disagrees with that feeling!
This whole Third Age idea is about embracing and celebrating our age. But if you are like me the “inner critic” can get in the way.
What is this “inner critic”? It’s your internal voice that is mostly negative talk that can give us false, harmful thoughts that often lead to misconceptions about our self.
I found this article by Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. that gives us 4 easy ways to calm the “inner critic” within.
1. Notice The Critic…
To gain control over your inner critic you have to first be aware of it. During every conscious moment we have an inner dialogue with ourselves. Much of our thinking is so automatic and happening so rapidly that we barely notice it before we move on to the next thought. Making the conscious effort to slow down and pay more attention to your thoughts will help you notice when the critic is present. Your emotions will also cue you to the presence of the critic. Negative emotions such as doubt, guilt, shame, and worthlessness are almost always signs of the critic at work.
A good exercise to try for one week is to simply keep an inner critic log, either in a small notebook or on your phone. Every time you notice yourself being self-critical, just note two or three words about the situation-got up late, meeting with boss, fight with mom, lunch choices-and what the criticism was-I’m lazy, I’m a bad employee, I’m not a good daughter, I have no self-control. Once you are aware of the critical voice, you will be in a position to stand up to it.
2. Separate The Critic Rrom You…
The inner critic doesn’t want you to notice it. It thrives best when you mistake it for being part of your authentic self. However, you weren’t born with an inner critic. The critic is a voice that you have internalized based on outside influences and learning, such as other people’s criticism, expectations, or standards. One way to separate from the critic is to give it a name. Any name will work; to add some levity you might even try using a silly name like The Old Hag. What is important is that by separating it from your own identity, you are on your way to freeing yourself from its influence.
3. Talk Back…
Talking back to your inner critic is an important part of taking away its power. Simply telling the critic you don’t want to hear what it has to say begins to give you a sense of choice in the matter. When you hear the inner critic start to speak, tell it to go away. Tell it you refuse to listen. Tell it that you know it is a liar. Tell it you are choosing instead to be kind to yourself.
4. Replace The Critic…
The best way to defeat the critic is to have an even stronger ally on your side. You need to grow an inner voice that acts as your own best friend. In order to do this, you need to start noticing the good things about yourself. No matter what the inner critic has told you, you do have positive traits, although it may take you some effort to retrain yourself to see them.
Because of the way our brain works, we all have an automatic selective filtering system that will look for evidence in our environment that matches up with whatever we believe to be true about ourselves. We will then disregard other evidence to the contrary. If you are always saying to yourself I am an idiot, you might actually do a lot of smart things, but you will still zero in on the small mistakes you make (e.g., locking your keys in the car). You will fixate on those things because they match up with what you say to yourself.
To break this automatic tendency, you have to first make the deliberate effort to say something different to yourself and then actively search for evidence that the new statement is true. When you hear your critic saying I am an idiot, talk back and tell the critic that isn’t true. Then replace the statement with something you know is true, such as, Sometimes I do smart things, and come up with as many examples as you can to support this new statement. The critic doesn’t like to be wrong. The more examples you come up with to support your alternate view, the less it will come around.
While these four things are easy to do, it takes some practice to instill these ideas. The “inner critic” took years to take form an it will take time to reform.
Just always remember to be kind and compassionate with yourself! And don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you notice you’re calming the “inner critic.”!
About Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D.
Jennice is the Director of Emory University’s Adult Outpatient Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science in the School of Medicine.
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