Example of Working Through a Harsh Inner Critic and How You Can Too

It’s Sunday afternoon. I am getting ready to get lunch in the city. It’s hot. If I’m going to sweat, I’m going to be comfortable. 

I realize a certain shirt would be perfect. It would match the shorts I want to wear, cover me enough not to get sunburnt and be breathable enough so I would glisten and hopefully not drip in sweat. But did I donate it when I was cleaning out my closet?

 A trip to my closet confirmed I did.

“What the fuck, I just had to donate that one shirt to lighten the load like one shirt was going to make the difference. How dumb. Had I not donated it, it would have the perfect outfit”.

 Inner Voice, Inner Bully

While a small minority of people do not hear their thoughts, most of us do, we call this an “inner voice”. And sometimes that inner voice can be incredibly harsh.

Sometimes a bully in our own mind, our inner voice is a bully who has our voice. A harsh inner critic, we can end up beating ourselves up for things that we wouldn’t beat others up for if they did them. And since our inner voice sounds like our voice and we are likely to trust it. 

So we might be bullying ourself without even being aware of it. But even though the bully sounds like us, and is in our own mind, it’s not coming from us. The harshness and negativity is coming from influences in our environment or things we have heard before.

Think about it, babies aren’t born questioning the size of their thighs or wondering if they didn’t learn to walk as quickly as others. We learn comparative thinking and criticism. And sometimes the real bullies in our lives start to live in our minds.

Breaking it Down

When I wasn’t aware of my inner bully I would have likely followed the harsh thought pattern. And I would have likely imagined a plain white shirt that I didn’t like into something worthy of the Paris runway. Thinking it was dumb for donating the shirt and that nothing would look as good.

Such a strong feeling might lead to anxiety the next time I’m donating clothes. Is this the item I am going to wish I still had when I am trying on outfits in a year?

This could then lead to me holding onto items I don’t wear for years… which is exactly what that shirt was. Something I had not worn in years and something I did not like even when I had it—there’s a reason it was donated.  

Turning It Around

“Ok, welp, I didn’t donate just one shirt I donated three bags. It felt great to organize and clean out things I rarely wear. I don’t remember ever wearing that shirt which is why I donated it. Good on me for reducing clutter. Sucks I could have used the shirt now but oh well.”

I found a shirt that looked good enough and I went for lunch. (Literally, I am here now writing this, the shrimp salad is delicious!)

Feet on the Ground

Common advice to combat a harsh inner voice (or inner critic as some say) is to ask yourself if you would say it to a friend. So if your friend made the same mistake you made, would you say to them what you are saying to yourself?

This works because we are typically more compassionate to others than we are to ourselves.

However, sometimes it isn’t enough. So we need to use more personal development tools to squash our harsh inner critic. The more you use the tools the easier it becomes. And while a harsh inner critic may never go away, it will certainly get weaker the more we challenge it.

One tool we need to use is awareness. Because we need to be aware of the inner critic if we are going to challenge it. You can do this by focusing on your feelings. If you find yourself frustrated or annoyed with yourself focus on what thoughts brought about the feeling.

Ask yourself, “was my harsh inner critic at play?” You can do this right now by reflecting on previous times you were harsh with yourself. Reflecting on previous situations will help you bring awareness to when it’s happening in real time.

Another tool is forgiveness. Forgive yourself for being human and making mistakes. Then accept you are human and you make mistakes. Put things in perspective and realize the biggest mistake is not leanring from your mistakes. So use this as a learning lesson. Or in my case, realize sometimes shit happens… I don’t regret donating that shirt. It wasn’t that cute, I built it up in my mind.

Which leads us to acceptance. We need to accept that life is not going to be perfect and sometimes the right shirt just isn’t around. But focuisng on the negative will make things worse. So when we decided “it is what it is” we are opening ourselves to better things.

So now go tell your inner critic whose boss. You can and you will.

Image by Kerstin Herrmann