Inside every one of us there is a little voice. That voice is our Inner Judge and Critic, a persistent presence that criticizes, judges, shames and blames us, telling us that we’re deficient, bad or wrong. It constantly seems to be evaluating our worth as a human being and limiting our capacity to change, evolve or improve.
The voice is merciless and constant. But who or what is it? Why does it rear its ugly head so often to thwart your efforts to become a "better you?"
It is not you
The ‘who’ is easy. That voice is NOT you. Rather, it represents a composite of those many authority figures you encountered throughout your childhood: the punishing parents, judgmental teachers, the critical, blaming voices that surrounded you as you were growing up. Then it takes on the voices of your extended family, relatives, clergy, radio and TV personalities, and the like.
So your Inner Judge and Critic is a reflection of your experiences with others in the environment within which you grew up. It pretends to be your conscience but it is really a harsh judge and cruel source of punishment, one which leads to self-distrust and self-hatred.
The negative energy and emotions you experience when you judge and blame yourself harshly are a form of self-abuse. Continual negative self-judgments are debilitating and self-sabotaging - and they keep you from becoming a better you.
The real you
Your essential self is the real "you" who experiences your life. It’s the you who experiences having a body, having thoughts, having feelings, and having an ego. It is the true "I" whom you can experience when you're living in the moment, right here and right now, without the interference of the Inner Judge and Critic's mind chatter.
When you're in the moment and disengaged from your Inner Judge and Critic, you experience this essence - the essential you who is unencumbered by the negative thoughts, feelings, emotions and stories of your Inner Judge and Critic. And free of this self-demeaning chatter, and criticisms, you can access the voice of your essential self that will support you to becoming a better you.
Dealing with Your Inner Judge and Critic
Here are five practices that can support you to quiet your Inner Judge and Critic.
1. Listen to, but do not engage, the voice. Become an observer, a witness. Listen without reacting. Breathe deeply and slowly into your belly. Follow your breath, in and out. Slowly, your attention will focus away from the voice of the Inner Judge and Critic. You will begin to hear "your own voice" and sense a separation from the voice of your Inner Judge and Critic
2. When you hear an attack - some flavor of "You're bad or wrong," or "You're not good enough" - it may sound counterintuitive at first, but agree with the voice and then add something to the effect, "…and, if you don't like it, too bad!" Essentially what you're doing here is quieting the voice by agreeing with it. You're taking the air out of its critical balloon,
So, for example, "Yeah, I know I'm being lazy today, but if you don't like it, too bad. I'm just fine with being lazy right now." Or, "I know I keep repeating the same mistake, and it's just too bad if that bothers you."
What's happening here is that diffusing the power of the voice makes it lose its energy and puts some distance between you and it. That distance gives you room to breathe and feel more adult-like, rather than child-like and means you're more able to experience your essential self and gain the strength, energy and clarity to become a better you without being encumbered by the inner judge and critic.
3. Practice focusing. Focusing is a great way to move you into that part of the (right) brain which is associated with equanimity, serenity, peacefulness and well-being. In this part of the brain, you are less apt to succumb to feelings of powerlessness, fear, defensiveness or guilt.
Notice what you're sensing in your body as well as emotionally - and be there. Be curious rather than self-judgmental. Engage in deep breathing - long, slow, deep and quiet.
As you begin to breathe, the sensations in your body will begin to dissipate and you can return to a sense of calm. This is often accompanied by courage, neutrality, willingness, acceptance and even gratitude.
4. Tell your inner judge and critic to "get lost!" If the situation permits, say this out loud and say it with real force. If the situation does not permit, then say it silently. You may have to say it more than once. But be sincere in the way you voice it - internally or externally - as if you were speaking to someone was standing behind you and attacking you.
- How secure do you feel in your own skin (on a scale of 1-10)?
- What are some phrases your Inner Judge and Critic uses to attack you?
- When did you first become aware of these attacks?
- Who do you remember using (some flavor of) these attacks against you when you were young?
- How do these attacks affect how you show up (or don’t show up) in your adult world?
- Are you generally jealous of, critical of, or judgmental of others? Do you know why?
- What does behaving this way get you?
- Were your parents or primary caregivers judgmental and critical of others?
- Do you ever practice focusing, presence or mindfulness? What's that experience like?
5. Tell your inner judge and critic, "Thank you very much. But I really don't need your advice right now. I'm fine without it."
The key here is that through these exercises you'll be able to remain in a state of peace, calm, and equanimity. It is from this place that movement toward becoming a better you is easier.
Using any of these exercises will support you to quiet that voice telling you how you should live your life, what you should say, what you should do and how you should be. In addition, these exercises will support you to move away from feelings of lack and deficiency and towards feelings of self-love, compassion, security and strength - the qualities that will support you to take action to move forward to becoming a better you.
Because your body is the best barometer of what's really happening in your life, it's also important to be aware of what you're sensing in your body when you're inner judge and critic is attacking you. Physiological sensations you experience in your body when you're feeling insecure, afraid and incompetent can inform you of what's really happening "inside" as you're being attacked. Ask those sensations what they want you to know and ask to be guided towards "right knowing," "right understanding" and "right action."