Many of us have a vocal inner critic, who tells us what we’re doing wrong, how what we’re trying won’t work, how we’ll never be good enough.
Some of the techniques I share to help clients and students manage conflict with other people also work very well for this inner “adversary.”
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of techniques designed to help you silence that inner critic. But for me, personally and as a conflict management professional, I’ve learned it’s a lot better to put my energy toward making that inner part an ally. Compassion and understanding help.
As I tell my clients and students, you’re much more likely to get what you want if you can compassionately see another person you’re at odds with as a struggling human who is doing the best they can, instead of an enemy intent on doing you harm.
Whether it’s inner conflict or outer conflict, it helps to understand their perspective, what they want, and why they’re doing what they do.
Meet Gremly, my inner critic
I call my inner critic Gremly. As I’ve worked with her and gotten to know her, I’ve come to see her not as a nasty adult, but as a vulnerable little girl with a big bad gremlin mask that she hides behind. Gremly is frightened, particularly of not being good enough, and has absorbed all the negative comments parents, “friends”, and people at work have made. She seems to believe that if she criticizes me loudly and immediately, she can prevent me from taking risks that could lead to failure, and by being negative first, she can prevent other people’s comments from hurting. It is a misguided approach to protecting me, and it is all she knows to do.
Negotiating with the inner critic
So what are the benefits of dialoguing and negotiating with this inner critic? Understanding their fear and pain can soften your heart and help you understand they’re not motivated by hate. Changing how you communicate with them, will change their response. But how can you change the tone of your communication with your inner critic?
The heart of communication
Several years ago I wrote an article called, The Heart of Communication: from Strife to Harmony, a spiritual approach to having a successful conversation with a challenging person in your life. These same four steps, or chambers of the heart as I called them, also work for conversation with difficult parts of yourself.
Four Steps for a successful conversation with your inner critic:
1. Listen deeply–to this part of yourself. What wisdom can they offer? What are they feeling and needing? Listening with an open heart, with curiosity, and with compassion can be quite enlightening.
2. Speak your truth, gently. We don’t need to be harsh to say what’s true for us and what we need from this part of ourselves.
3. Embrace imperfection –our own and that of others. When we accept that everyone, including us, makes mistakes all the time, that it is simply part of being human, the inner critic loses power to shame us.
4. Let go— of judgements, expectations , bitterness, and resentments. Past experiences need not control us or determine our attitudes or outcomes.
It may seem odd at first to have a conversation with part of yourself. And even with help from a coach or counselor, changing your inner dialogue won’t happen all at once. Like any relationship change, it takes willingness, kindness, persistence, and practice. But having an inner ally instead of an inner critic can make such a positive difference in your life and your work that it is absolutely worth the effort.