You might be one of those people walking around today with an extremely negative voice in your head. It's the voice that tells you what you "should" and "shouldn't" do; it makes you feel stupid, small, awkward and inept; blaming you for the things that go wrong in your life and refusing to give you credit for your accomplishments.
It's a miserable voice that causes a lot of difficulties. It creates shame, self-doubt and sometimes even emotional paralysis. I call it the "inner critic," as it arises out of a child's automatic internalization of all the critical messages she took in as she was growing up, from her parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, clergy or the media.
Your inner critic is as destructive today as the negative messages were hurtful to you when you were younger. If, in your childhood, most of the adults around you were supportive and affirming, the inner critic in your head will be fairly insignificant, but if the majority of the adults you knew were critical toward you, or if one or two grown-ups really put you down, you probably have a powerful inner critic.
When we're unaware of a psychological issue, we have no power to resolve it. It follows then, that the first step in getting rid of this hyper-critical voice within you is to recognize that it's there, and that there's a big difference between your usual inner monologue and the negative voice of the inner critic.
The second step is to understand that it's not an integral part of your true self; it's "other." That is, it's a bit like a parasite. As opposed to the physical type of parasite, this one resides in your psyche, feeds off your negative emotions and releases toxins into your mind. Like a physical parasite, however, you can and should get rid of it before it causes you any more harm.
The third step toward eliminating the inner critic is recognizing that it's neither necessary for your survival nor in any way conducive to your well-being. Once you're an adult, you don't need any parent-figure to tell you how to take care of yourself or live your life, and it's obvious that you won't benefit from an inner voice that demands perfection, criticizes your every move, fills you with anxiety and burdens you with guilt.
The fourth step is to take time to identify the various messages the critic is sending you. It can be helpful to do an exercise in which you write down as many as possible, and then write refutations of each negative message.
For example, if the critic is always telling you that you're not smart, you can write down that you know you're smart because of all the things that you've accomplished in your life. If it tells you that you're undeserving of love or happiness, write down that you're as entitled as anyone else to these things.
It's important not to bargain, plead or negotiate with the inner critic, however. Engaging with it in this way won't be effective. You need to be firm and strong in the face of this negative force, or it will take advantage of what it perceives as weakness or vulnerability on your part by intensifying its criticisms.
I sometimes compare the inner critic to an abusive partner. Like such a partner, the inner critic tells you that you're useless, worthless, and undeserving of love or respect. It says that you're incapable of succeeding at anything you try and that without it, you won't be able to function. At the same time as it puts you down, it tells you that you need it for your survival.
Unfortunately, just like when you're with an abusive partner, the more you believe these lies, the longer you stay trapped in the vicious circle of being undermined, underachieving, and being reminded that you're a failure. The only way to get rid of the inner critic (or an abusive partner) is to reject the lies and begin to build your self-esteem.
This isn't done with empty affirmations, but by making every effort to love and accept yourself as you are now, and by through pursuing meaningful goals. These are the fifth and sixth steps in getting rid of this inner voice of negativity.
Every time you achieve something, be it large or small, if you affirm yourself and use this affirmation to develop your self-confidence, it will go toward building your self-worth and silencing the inner critic. Accumulating a series of accomplishments will create a storehouse of proof that you are, indeed, capable of success in your endeavors.
Recognizing the existence of the inner critic; knowing that it's not a true part of who you are; seeing that it's neither necessary nor helpful for your survival or success; identifying and refuting the specific messages the critic is sending you; beginning to love and accept yourself and acknowledging your various accomplishments are the six steps, then, in eliminating this toxic entity in your psyche. Why not get going on them right now?
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