I have an inner critic who lives with me. Her name is Esmerelda.
She came up to me the other day to remind me that I probably don’t want to be eating that new brand of Skinny Pop I found, the one with the dark chocolate drizzled on it. Popcorn is okay, she told me, but with chocolate? That was a no.
Essy (as I like to call her sometimes) and I hang out together a lot. Whenever I’m working or going in the kitchen for a snack, Essy is standing right beside me whispering things to me like “you shouldn’t do that, it sounds scary” or “you’re seriously thinking about chocolate? Don’t you have any willpower?”
Essy always keeps me in check, reminding me that I might not be good enough, not capable enough, or too scared to try that new thing. She also loves to criticize my weight, my discipline with food, or point out that I’m not exercising enough.
She’s a bully alright. And like so many women, my inner critic that lives with me, full time, inside my head.
How did I get here? Although I have learned the art of self-compassion and being my inner cheerleader, I often turn toward my inner critic for advice and guidance first. Many women are trained to do this. If I’m not putting myself down or reprimanding myself, then I feel indulgent and selfish. Women learn to adopt an inner critic. Growing up, I got many messages that dieting was the norm, compliments (or criticisms) were doled out depending on your weight, and enjoying food came with a price.
Rational Critical Thinking or Inner Critic?
Before your inner critic moves in and takes up residence in your head, learn a different way to make choices throughout your day. Understand that your inner critic wants to keep you safe. Like so many women, you have been conditioned to adopt fear – fear of messing up, fear of gaining weight, fear of not being good enough. Give yourself time to identify these fears. Give thought to when you might have felt them in the past and where they originated from. Consider what holding onto these fears does for you.
For some, you may feel your inner critic:
keeps you safe;
protects you from getting hurt;
stops you from having to do scary things;
prevents you from having to take chances;
Rational critical thinking is different. RCT says things to you like, “I know where this fear is coming from” or “there is something deeper going on for me here, I recognize this.” RCT allows you to edge out of safety and feel your fear.
Managing Your Inner Critic
Think of your rational critical thinker as the caring, feeling, rational side of your brain. The nonjudgemental coach inside your head. Rational critical thinking allows you to take a breath, pause, and step back. Critical thinking says, “I have felt this before, I know as a child I used to feel this way. I may feel sensitive around this, but I don’t have to feel this way anymore.”
Now we have ground to stand on and space to consider things differently. Here is where you can infuse yourself with compassion. Compassion may not come easily at first, especially when your inner critic is so domineering. But let’s try. Next time your inner critic taps you on the shoulder to remind. for example, that you that you are not doing a good enough job with your eating, talk back to her. Tell her that you appreciate her being with you to keep you safe but you are perfectly fine. Remind her that she can sit in the corner until you need her again, you’ve got this. Next, tell yourself what a good job you are doing. If it comes to food, weight, or body image, remind yourself that you are a work in progress. Love yourself for your effort.
Self Compassion Always Wins
Self-compassion was the game-changer for so many things in my life, most notably losing 25 pounds and keeping it off. Had I criticized myself through the journey my efforts would have felt like one big struggle. Self-compassion is the missing ingredient to make changes that last.
Before I opened that bag of chocolate drizzled popcorn, I had a conversation with my rational self, infused with compassion. I paused, asked myself if I was having this treat for any sort of emotional reason, because I was physically hungry, or was I just in the mood for some chocolate? I took a small handful then asked Esmerelda to sit down for a chat. I told her I was okay, that one or two handfuls of popcorn was not going to derail me.
I enjoyed every bite.