Ah, yes, the inner critic. We all have one. As women we’re supposed to have an especially massive bitchy one who totally hates us. Forget trolls and haters. Who needs them when you have an inner critic, especially one who talks in your mother’s voice? My inner critic imparts all sorts of interesting information to me. I’m lazy. I’m always late for everything. I’m fat. Even though I lost a lot of weight in the past year. In fact, says the all-knowing bitch inside, maybe I’m even fatter than before I lost the weight. (It’s not worth telling her to get her eyesight checked. I’ve tried. She says it’s me who’s a bit cross-eyed as well as being fat.)
We all know about this bitch voice and we all know we’re supposed to be more feminist towards ourselves and dial it down. But what if -- and this is a very new thing and I’m not sure I’m on board with it -- we worked with this voice and not against it? What if we amplified it and listened instead of trying to shut it up and ignore it? Would this actually help?
This goes against everything I’ve always thought about the inner critic. But increasingly it’s a technique being used in coaching and psychotherapy. In her new book Emotional Agility, Professor Susan David argues we should not silence this voice, we should “tame” it. She says that instead of getting anxious and trying to shut down our self-doubt, we should ask the voice of the inner critic: “Where do you come from?”
The inner critic, she argues, is “part and parcel of being human”. The point is not to disassociate from negative thoughts and overly critical self-evaluation, it’s to hold those thoughts at arm’s length and evaluate them. What can you learn from them?
Forget trolls and haters. Who needs them when you have an inner critic, especially one who talks in your mother’s voice?
Professor David says: “Every day we speak around 16,000 words – but the voice in our head creates thousands more. Thoughts such as ‘I’m not spending enough time with my children’ or ‘I don’t have the confidence to do this presentation’ are taken as unshakable facts when in reality they are the judgemental opinions of our inner voice.”
Of course no-one wants this weird and nasty judge in our heads or in our lives. I mean, if Simon Cowell moved into your bathroom and sat on your toilet wearing his nipple-height trousers and told you that whenever you shower your singing is pitchy, you’d tell him where to go, right? But the thing with the inner critic is that it is inside you. (It is not outside you like Simon Cowell. If Simon Cowell is inside you, you need more help than I can offer in this column.) This voice is a part of you. You need to make friends with this voice and learn from it.
Professor David argues that any other strategy is futile: “Suppressing your inner critic doesn’t work. In fact, ignoring thoughts and emotions leads to a rebound effect, increasing their intensity and frequency.” So the more I try to push away the idea that I am (STILL) fat, the more I want to eat biscuits. It is like worrying about being worried, adds Professor David. “It just creates a whole new problem.”
Solution? Ask where that idea is coming from. (Easy in my case. I grew up chubby and have overeaten most of my life to, er, prove it.) Understand that the inner critic can help you. (For me: it’s a reminder that I can’t be complacent about staying healthy.) And, finally act in spite of your inner critic. (Don’t eat biscuits. Stay conscious of the fact that you’ve worked hard to be healthy.) So easy! Done deal. Not really. It’s actually a life’s work. Just like biscuit avoidance.