Inner Critical Voice

In a recent article entitled "Living With, and Loving, Your Imperfect Life", Mark Bertin explains the inner critical voice, the impact it can have on daily life and how mindfulness meditation can help us to gain space to respond, rather than knee-jerk react to challenges that arise:

"The Inner Critic is a particularly draining mental pattern. Like a playground tyrant, it’s an unrelenting heckler. It insults and judges mostly without reason—You’re not good enough. You should have done X or Y but definitely not Z again. Why do you bother? You’ll never get it right.

That voice is not about improvement, making amends, or fixing what needs fixing—ideas we want to build upon. The Inner Critic embodies mindless self-judgment that undermines our confidence, and, ultimately, our well-being, and affects all of our interactions with the world.

When we take that critical voice at face value, it fuels perfectionism—I blew it, I should be better at this thing; I shouldn’t be so (fill in your own habitual blank). Even if there were some credence to the thought—maybe we would benefit if we were a little less reactive or hit the gym more often—the incessant negativity isn’t helpful. Change and effort do not require constantly deriding ourselves along the way. In fact, they’re often upended by it.

Most of us spend a fair amount of energy trying to convince ourselves that this judgmental voice is wrong, but it’s not a logical thought to start with. We posit and plea and debate with it, but it’s not even-handedly grading our performance. We can’t with logic alone solve why we’re down on ourselves or why we’re better than the Inner Critic would have us believe. The truth is, over-analyzing our own worth, skills, or prospects can’t really influence an inherently irrational voice.

When we recognize the Inner Critic as nothing more than an entrenched mental habit, we shift our relationship with it. Instead of trying to pacify this voice, we label it and create some distance. Thanks anyway. That’s judgment, and I’m not wrestling with you today. Instead of believing its nagging opinions, we pause, nod at our personal heckler with a smile, and come back to our senses once again."

The practice of meditation can help us to recognise when the inner critical arises and to create space to allow ourselves to label the voice and gain distance, seeing it as simply an entrenched mental habit and not as a collection of facts about ourselves. 

Gillian’s book Mindfulness at Work and Home is available for pre-order at Reddoor Press.

Gill Higgins