Do you have an inner critic that is always on the lookout for anything you’ve done wrong? That ridicules and shames you for the smallest mistake? That drives you to be perfect and doesn’t let you rest? Would you like to be free of it? 

Before we can convince it to retire or take on a different job (like encouraging us!), we need to understand how it developed and why it is still here.

We form beliefs about ourselves and how life works based on our experiences. Many of these beliefs were formed in childhood, a time when we had very little personal power, limited brain development and a survival level need for attachment.

Ideally our parents would be emotionally self-regulated and attuned to us. They would be connected with us so we felt seen and valued. We could co-regulate emotionally with them. This only needs to be the case about 30% of the time for us to grow up with a sense of safety and the ability to self-regulate. 

Part of maturing as an adult is taking on the job of (re)parenting ourselves. Unfortunately, shaming parenting styles we inherited are not conducive to developing into an emotionally healthy adult. A big player here is shaming by the inner critic. It needs a new job!

Here are some basics about shame:

  • The evolutionary purpose of shame is to maintain social order and sharply correct a behaviour that could get us kicked out of our community
  • Because being ostracized is a survival level threat, shame creates an immediate bad feeling to arrest an action quickly so we won’t do the behaviour again
  • Ideally it is in a context of connection – we realize we are not bad, our behaviour was not okay
  • Shame is toxic when it stays internal to become a sense of yourself as bad
  • Shame blocks and dampens other emotions

Shaming actually decreases our ability to change. Recent research on body shaming had clear results. People who are shamed for their body size and eating are paralyzed by shame and self-loathing. Shame feels so terrible that we will do almost anything to escape. This feeds into disconnection and addictions of all kinds.

Check out the inquiry practice below.

What is the job of your inner critic? What is it trying to accomplish? How does it see its job? Did it take over from your parents? What is the tone of voice? Whose voice is it?

What is the underlying drive for shaming yourself? As long as your inner critic is convinced it is being helpful, it won’t give up trying to protect you.

What would happen if your inner critic stopped driving you? Is it safe to let go of believing you are fundamentally wrong and need to be aggressively pushed to accomplish anything?

Is shaming effective? It changes behavior in the short term. Brené Brown speaks about parents using shame. It’s a direct hit and it works! 

What is the cost in stress and unhappiness of living in this toxic stew of shame? Is there another way to accomplish your goals? 

Shaming shuts us down. We disconnect from our own natural energy and enthusiasm for life. Awareness through mindfulness is a great start in noticing how subversive and pervasive our inner critic can be. As we understand the drivers and the mechanism, we can see it clearly. Just like we need to be aware of and challenge catastrophic, worst-case scenario thinking, we need to do the same with the inner critic.

Kindness and encouragement are fertile soil for growth and happiness. Could your inner critic become your inner encourager?

(13 min)
Inner Critic
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