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Sticks and Stones:
Disarming the Inner Critic

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(Author's note: This is an altered and expanded version of an article I wrote several years ago. In revisiting the subject of the inner critic, I have come to realize that no one article can say it all.)

Once upon a time all of us knew we were unlimited beings directly connected to universal source energy. We knew that this energy never judged, never criticized. It guided us to make the choices most in harmony with our essential nature. We embraced it as Unconditional Love.

Then we were born into the physical plane, among people who'd forgotten their unlimited nature. These people were the Outer Critics: parents and other relatives, teachers, classmates and alleged friends. They'd learned to see love as a form of barter, and they said that if we were good, they would love us.

Our original form of guidance, the voice that urged us to do what made us joyful, got drowned out by the sound of the Outer Critics. They were many, and we were small and in need of love and protection, so we tried desperately to learn what it meant to be good. We listened to them so intently that the Outer Critic seeped into our psyches as water finds its way through cracks through a wall: silent, almost invisible, but capable of considerable damage. It became a part of us I call the Inner Critic.

I'm not going to waste one minute blaming the Outer Critics for making this happen. My purpose is to neutralize the voice of criticism, whether Inner or Outer--or as the poet W.B. Yeats wrote, to "Come free of the net of right and wrong."

The Inner Critic Speaks

The Inner Critic (IC) is capable of silence--usually when one is asleep. It has many modes of operation.

It may be a constant hum in the background, one that tells you every time you've made a mistake, however small, that warns you against doing anything with a possible failure factor. An aggressive IC may routinely criticize your thoughts. "Oh, that was really brilliant." "You should be ashamed of yourself, thinking such unkind thoughts."

I've noticed that the IC gets especially active when I'm in high-risk phases of my life. If I'm worried about money, it tells me how bad the economy is; it criticizes me for spending any "unnecessary" money. When I contemplate significant changes, it warns me that people who give up perfectly comfortable and secure lives have uncertain and ultimately ruinous futures. When I first talked about building a web site, the IC fell on its side with laughter.

Dealing with the Inner Critic

A famous Pogo cartoon ends with the words, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Though the comment referred to the sight of garbage littering Pogo's forest home, we are also responsible for allowing the Inner Critic to litter our psyches with negativity. That's good because it means we can do something about it.

The one thing we can't do is resist the Inner Critic. The Inner Critic is energy, and all energy expands and grows when one pays attention to it. Resistance is a very focused form of attention. If you shout at the Inner Critic to go away, it will just come back at you with even more force.

Can we ignore it? Most of us have given it too much power by listening to it to suddenly do this. It is, however, possible to neutralize it. Below I describe several methods for doing this.

One way is to talk to it. I usually conduct this dialogue on paper or on the computer, but it can be done as a silent conversation.

Below is an extract from the first conversation I had with the IC, almost ten years ago.

Me: I'd like to learn how to paint in watercolor.
Inner Critic: You? Remember your first day in kindergarten when you did finger-painting and you got most of the paint on your clothes? Do you really have nothing better to do with your money than to waste it on paper and paint? And brushes? Brushes are expensive.
Besides, that's a really frivolous idea. Who told you life was supposed to be fun? You have more important things to do. You have a business to run, classes to give, people to counsel. How can you be so selfish as to consider doing something which is strictly for your own entertainment (since you know you'll never get anywhere with it)? Play now, pay later.

I now can make an instructive journey down memory lane. I may remember the time I tried to paint a wastebasket with watercolors, and grade-school paintings that gave abstract art a bad name. I may also recall stories about hardworking ancestors who labored from dawn to dusk, sacrificing leisure, health, and lives in order to support their families.

Then--and this is a very important step--I tell myself these are stories. They're things that I heard and things that happened in the past. The past affects me only to the degree that I allow it to do so. I have a choice in the matter.

Draw the Inner Critic

I learned this exercise through reading a wonderful book about journaling, Leaving A Trace, by Alexandra Johnson. Here's the process:

  1. Get a piece of blank paper. In the center draw a circle and write the words Inner Critic (the book calls this the Censor). Draw lines radiating outward from the circle.
  2. Think of occasions in the past when the Inner Critic was especially critical. At the end of each line, write down who said what. For example, I wrote that my grandmother said I always had my nose stuck in a book.
  3. When you've come up with enough experiences to satisfy yourself, give each of these critics a failing grade by writing big "F"s by each of their comments. (The book recommends using a red marker or pencil.)
  4. Then answer the critic. I told my grandmother, "Yes! And I still do!"
  5. What you choose to do with the people is optional. Some people throw it away, but I was so delighted with the results that I decided to save it and pull it out whenever the IC went on a rampage.

What Is Worthiness, Anyway?

I found that the most powerful way of defusing the Inner Critic was to look at its purpose, realize that it's only trying to help, and find more affirming ways of getting that help. Since the Inner Critic's reason for existence is to tell you how to be worthy of love, I decided to take a closer look at the issue of worthiness.

My breakthrough realization on this subject was that I could never be worthy enough, no matter how I tried. Worthiness always comes from someone else's expectations, someone else's standards. Thus, the Outer Critic turned Inner can never be satisfied. Never.

I realized I could spend my whole life trying to be worthy, and it would never happen, and the harder I tried, the less chance I'd have of true happiness. That gave me a powerful incentive to give up on this worthiness notion.

Here's an exercise that may help you experience the same conclusion:

  1. Make a list of the things you think you think a worthy person does. What do you need to do to be considered worthy?
  2. Ask yourself how many of those things you really want to do. Be honest. No one will see this list but you.
  3. Ask yourself how many of these things you really need to do. You will be surprised how readily, with determination, you can clear many action items from your agenda, if you realize that worthiness has nothing to do with your true worth.
  4. You can expand and enhance your true feeling of love through deliberate self-appreciation. This is a little tricky, because it can lead right to the path of worthiness. Find silly reasons to love yourself, because you like eggs, because your cat likes you, because you are looking at a beautiful day, because you've created many beautiful things in your life.

From Inner Critic to Inner Counselor and Inner Cheerleader

Once you feel you've begun to tip the balance in terms of being able to hear the Inner Critic without feeling guilty, unworthy, or driven to do everything it says and agree with every criticism, see what happens when you give it center stage.

I open or continue a computer file and just let the Critic rant for as long as it wants. Here's a recent sample: "You're lazy, you don't work hard enough, you are not worthy, you don't contribute, you are basically a glut in the universe and a drag."

If I'd started to argue with it, thus being in resistance, things might have gotten worse. I've learned, though, to simply listen, and I've discovered that the more I allow my Inner Critic to speak and am open to hearing it the more the character of its communications change.

This time was no exception. The IC began to chastise me for not thinking myself as good as others, saying, "Do you think they're gods and goddesses? Get off it: they're just ordinary people. What's the difference? They believe in themselves, and there's no magic to that. Just do it. Just believe."

As I continue to converse with my Inner Critic, it becomes the Inner Companion, Inner Counselor, my best friend who will always tell me the truth I'm now ready to hear. It returns to its original form as the voice of true inner guidance who tells me how to live a joyful life.

Now, that's love.

Guidance Counselors

Crystals

Citrine is valuable for those who do not sufficiently appreciate themselves. It helps to bestow a sun-like feeling of confidence.

Rose quartz, in many ways a companion for citrine, directly softens feelings of hurt and inadequacy that stem from a lack of self-love.

Azurite is especially helpful for clearing up the beliefs and semisecret programs that run on automatic, preventing us from grasping a true sense of our unlimited spiritual dimensions.

Angelite is one of the loveliest stones to use for deepened and more loving communication both with one's inner self and with others. When we communicate with others in a loving way, we become free of fear of their judgment, thus opening the way to heightened appreciation of both them and ourselves.

Essences

As the pine tree perfumes the air with a clean, fresh fragrance, so Pine (Bach) helps to dissolve the toxins of guilt.

We're often diverted from our true path of joy by the feeling that we should put our own needs aside to serve others. Centaury (Bach) teaches that only the service that comes because it is joyful to us is of any value to others.

The person who needs Oak (Bach) doesn't so much suppress his own needs as translate them into an unyielding sense of duty. The oak tree will break before it bends, and the Oak person must learn to find his own way before duty causes him to break, too.

Playfulness is part of the path of joy, and Dolphin embodies the spirit that leaps with laughter on its path.


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