Our inner critics can be quite harsh and cruel. Which is why many of us start to dislike, or even despise, that inner voice. We might even find ourselves constantly getting caught up in battle.
Looks like somebody gained weight.
No, I haven’t! I look fine.
You’ll never like your body. In fact, you shouldn’t like something that looks like that.
That’s not true!
It can turn into a back-and-forth fight. Which means that in essence we’re fighting ourselves. In essence we develop an adversarial relationship with a part of ourselves, which creates conflict and confusion. And, not surprisingly, is anything but calming.
In her book A Kinder Voice: Releasing Your Inner Critics with Mindfulness Slogans, psychotherapist Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart shares a helpful alternative: It speaks to taking a compassionate approach. According to Jacobs-Stewart, “I learned the following meditation from the venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh, founder of Plum Village in France. It instructs us to welcome our inner critics—invite them in, ask them to pull up a chair, visit for a while, and have some tea as we would with an old friend.” The meditation includes:
- Start by noticing your breathing. Practice this for 5 minutes.
- Acknowledge whatever feeling arises. Name it.
- Let the feeling be as it is. For instance, according to Thích Nhất Hạnh, avoid saying “Go away, Fear. I don’t like you. You are not me.” Instead, try, “Hello, Fear. How are you today?”
- For 5 to 10 minutes, ask your emotions—whether it’s anxiety, boredom, shame or anger—“to pull up a chair and stay a while.”
- Picture your inner critic. Picture its face, how it’s dressed, and what spot of the house it’ll sit. Picture what it’s saying. Consider these questions: “How is this part—this inner critic—trying to protect you, even if it’s in a maladaptive or distorted way? What has its job been in your life? What would you like to ask it? How do you feel about having it as your guest?”
- Pay attention to what you’re learning from your inner critic. “Turn your concentration to accepting it, warmly and graciously, despite its muddy feet, rude manners, or threatening face: Oh I know you. You are familiar, an old friend. How are you today?‘”
- Finish by breathing for 5 minutes. You might say to yourself: “Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I smile. Then, ‘in, calm’ with the in-breath and ‘out, smile’ with the out-breath.'”
- Jot down any thoughts or images that arose during the meditation.
Approaching our inner critic with kindness can feel strange. How can we be kind to something that makes us feel so bad about ourselves?
But this part of us, like Jacobs-Stewart mentions, is being protective. Maybe it’s trying to protect us from rejection, humiliation or any other “negative” emotions or situations. Either way, it helps to try to understand. It helps us to be gentle and patient. Because it might even help us to heal.