Silencing the Inner Critic
Once upon a time there was this girl who had a difficult time accepting criticism or critique of any kind. She had this voice inside her head that took any kind of criticism to a deeply personal level - like it was about her as a human. Not only that, sometimes this inner voice was just downright mean, even when criticism was nowhere around. It would call her names, tell her she wasn’t smart or pretty and even that she wouldn’t ever be enough for anyone or anything.
Now mind you, the voice wasn’t speaking all the time. There were times of silence especially when something would go quite right. But soon enough it would come back around. This inner voice, or inner critic was mine. And honestly, I didn’t know that it was possible to talk back, or even send it away for most of my life. And now, if you’ve got that pesky little inner critic sticking around still, you may be wondering how the heck I’ve managed to overcome their voice.
Apparently there are books and articles in heaps out there. But if you didn’t know what it was or that you could live without it what would even make you go searching in the first place?
I’ve never read an article or book or even searched until today so I could see what was out there. However, I attribute my knowledge and my ability to let it go to two things.
Centering prayer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It changed my life. I didn’t begin practicing centering prayer for the outcomes it has brought to my life. I began centering prayer as a response to the anger to political circumstances of the day about 6 years ago. I needed a way to let go of my anger and what did I stumble upon in googling but Centering Prayer. (I will admit to you right here I wasn’t looking for prayer as an answer - it just happened to pop up in the google search) It’s one of the 12 steps in AA. And even though I was super skeptical the idea of sitting in silence with God would change anything because a. It wasn’t like any prayer I had ever prayed- prayer was always me (or someone else) talking and b. What could possibly be accomplished by doing or saying nothing?
And yet there I was. Sitting in silence with God. Returning to the word that I had chosen.
Just sitting. For 20 minutes. Every. Single. Day. For a year.
And I really came to enjoy it. But what does this have to do with the inner critic? Well there are some studies out there that show that this type of silent prayer rewires the brain and can help us learn to let go of things, ideas, thoughts we don’t need to hang onto. And that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t instant. I can’t even tell you when/how/what my brain was rewired. It was happening and I didn’t even know it. But as I reflect back I know that this was a huge part of silencing my inner critic.
The more active side of silencing my inner critic came during my spiritual direction training. I knew the inner critic existed from some of the reading we had been doing and I heard it loud and clear frequently. Somewhere during the first week we were told we would be practicing our skills as spiritual directors during the same week the following year. Great. An entire year to think of all the ways I could mess it up. Be embarrassed. Or show my great red face and neck that would come when I was feeling self-conscious. (There, now you all know it.)
However, prior to and through my direction training I began understanding my full belovedness as a child of God. The gift of being myself (thanks David Benner) and the truth of the person God had created me to be. As I began to rest in that Truth a glimmer of freedom from the inner critic began to seep in.
So the second year of my training rolled around and I knew we would begin our practice direction sessions with peers and supervisors. I wanted to be strategic and not get pulled down into the mire of all of the feelings that the critic might try to drag up. So a few things I set in my mind before I began that second year that I recalled at least once or multiple times a day weeks prior and during the week:
Rest in the fact that I was called to participate in this class
Got a good definition of the word PRACTICE (do you know it means you don’t have to be perfect at it?!)
Know that the people there loved me and supported me and I loved and supported them and they were on my team.
Every critique that was said was for my benefit to become a better spiritual director.
I took those knowings with me deep in my soul. Because I knew when the time came those truths would help me through.
And here’s the second part. And I won’t say it’s the most important, but I think it is what cemented it into my existence. We were required after every session we participated in to journal. And after each session I journaled about my feelings and the response to the critique. And I would write about anything my inner critic had said to me, bring myself back to the truths I came to the week with and let it go.
I know the phrase “let it go” seems a little overused, and a person can say it until they’re blue in the face but if you don’t know HOW to let it go then it can have no effect. But that’s where the centering prayer comes in. Centering prayer is the “how” of my letting go. I can’t tell you how it works, except that we are beautifully created and integrated beings.
I recently began yoga instructor training. I’m 41 and my body doesn’t look like most yoga instructors and so I’m also not going to tell you I never hear the inner critic anymore. But I will tell you it’s not very often and I know that voice when I hear it. And I can open myself to Love and with so much grace, to let it go.
For more on centering prayer here's a quick overview below. Feel free to ask me any questions or you can visit https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-method/
Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.