“My partner recently woke me up to something that has probably always been there. He expressed concern about how much I criticize myself (my looks, career and so on). I’m so accustomed to having this little gremlin in my head that is constantly judging me that I don’t really notice it or how awful it’s making me feel. I’m unable to walk by a mirror without tearing myself apart even though, on another level, I know I look just fine. While I know this endless judgment isn’t helpful, I can’t seem to shake it. Can you please let me know how to shut this critter up so I can live my life with some inner peace and self-confidence?”
Imagine this: A real live person is following you around all day and night, judging every aspect of you. They probably wouldn’t last that long before you cut them loose and told them where they could shove it. It’s amazing what we’re willing to put up with when the criticism is coming from inside. We trust and give authority to our own hateful thoughts in a way that we would never permit a stranger and it leaves us feeling awful and small.
First off, know that you are certainly not alone. To some extent we all have that little critter in our heads but for some, like yourself, the critic’s voice can often eclipse and drown out your more authentic and wise self. Our inner judge can be understood as the cumulative sludge that builds up as a result of societal and family judgment. This critter internalized and now replicates these extreme standards endlessly in your mind. This critic has likely been a long-standing part of your life — a little buddy that has been accompanying you and trying to protect you, ironically, from others’ judgments. Self-criticism can offer an illusion of preparedness… a sort of preemptive strike (“If I tell myself I’m an idiot, then it won’t hurt so bad if that date doesn’t call me back”).
It’s helpful to think of your inner critic as a separate entity from your true self. Your inner critic tends to speak to “you” while your more grounded self tends to speak to “I.” For example: “You are disgusting and need to lose your flub!” versus “I could benefit from more physical exercise.” The more aware of your inner critic you are the better able you’ll be to witness it in action from a distance rather than blindly being under its spell. In a way, it can feel quite vulnerable to begin facing the world without our critic. You’ll need to trust that you can feel good about yourself and survive any real-life judgment that comes your way… whether you’re constantly bracing for it or not.