Self-Doubt & The Inner Critic

Bust Your Inner Critic (3)

By January 7, 2009 3 Comments

The Inner Critic is that not so helpful mental voice that chatters away with lots of unhelpful, often critical nonsense. Buddhists call it the monkey mind. One meditation teacher I like, Sylvia Boorstein, has a great metaphor for it – the popcorn machine. That’s the mind, just popping off random thoughts, ideas, and arguments like popcorn. That’s its job. The point is, it is not personal, its structural. Its part of the human condition.
This voice often attacks us — you messed this up, you are too x or not enough y, what if x-disastrous thing happens? Then it attacks you for feeling attacked and not at peace: get a grip, get some perspective, don’t be so insecure, other people are confident and relaxed…just look over at Joe, laughing and drinking his martini with ease.
This voice is always there to take you down the road of worst-case-scenario planning and fearful thinking – as with “what will happen when we have kids…?” One of the primary qualities of this voice is that it looks at every situation through the lens of possible danger, with danger being loss, change, loss of face, loss of the things that prop up our sense of self. Its sort of the protector of pride and of the status quo. Its the scout for any potential threat to sense of self.
In most spiritual traditions, awakening lies in a very simple insight. “You” are not this voice. You are the person aware of this voice, feeling perplexed by it and bummed out by it and feeling its effects. You are the person trying to understand it and work with it and get rid of it! So, instead of saying, “I get insecure” be more precise – “I hear this voice telling me I can’t do x, I’m different, flawed, etc. and I can get caught up in it and believe it, even when I also don’t believe it, even when I see its absurdity.” Be honest, claim your victim-hood: you get attacked by this thing! Why is it empowering to claim that victim-hood? Because when you do so you are stating that this voice is clearly not “you.”
Create space between the you that you identify with and the voices in your head, your thinking. You can give this voice a name, personify it, and relate to as an entity apart from you (See post on Overcoming the Inner Critic). Every great spiritual tradition says this is basically all we have to do with this voice – separate from it, watch it, see its patterns and tricks, and see its beliefs as illusions.
Notice that we can only identify with this voice when we are identifying with thought, when we are in a left-brain/language mode, and when you are not being in the present. It subsides when we are doing those things that absorb most of us in the present, exercise, listening to music, sex, and also when we are doing those activities that hold that special immersive quality for us as individuals — whether that is painting or gardening or dancing or cookie baking or hangliding or whatever they are. Think about what activities take you to that place of absorption, immersion, absence of self-concept and self-consciousness and make sure you are getting enough time in those activities in your day.
And when the inner critic does come up, notice it, name it and separate yourself from it. You can hear it’s voice without listening to what that voice says.

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