Often, when I’m working with women to help them manage their inner critics, they’ll say back to me: “But that mean voice is not my inner critic. That’s just me. That’s just how I sound as I’m thinking thoughts in my head. I’m a very critical, hard-on-myself person. I don’t think I can change that.”
I firmly believe that we are not our inner critics, that the inner critic voice is one strand of us, a fear-based strand that is not the core of who we are.
One way to think of it is this: most of us hear our inner critic thoughts in this form, “You aren’t good at that” or “You aren’t ready” or “If you do that, people will realize you don’t know what you are talking about.”
In all those statements, notice that there is a speaker and then a “you” that the speaker is addressing.
So here’s the question: who is the “you” that is listening to that critical voice? Who is the critic talking to?
If you were your critic, there would be no separate you for the critic to address its remarks to.
When the inner critic arises, there’s a speaker in us, and a listener. There’s a voice proclaiming the judgements and a voice listening to them and reacting to them – usually shrinking or getting nervous in response.
In all situations, listeners have power. They have power to believe what they hear, or question it. They have power to listen attentively, or not. They have power to listen with compassion or with defensiveness. The same is true when we are listening to the voice of the inner critic.
When we hear the voice of self-doubt, we can listen to the voice without believing it to be speaking the truth. We can even – in some moments – listen to the voice of self-doubt with great compassion for its panicky underlying fears.
Today,any time you hear a little rumble of self-criticism, whether about that email you are trying to write or your mothering or the size and shape of your upper arms, I invite you to ask yourself: Who is the “me” that is listening to the voice of self-doubt?
It’s not a question we can answer in words, at least not in my experience. But it is a question that helps us step out of the spinning. And sometimes, it takes us right into a rich silence – an opening into something much more.
Who is the “me” that is listening to the voice of self-doubt?