The inner critic is the negative critical voice that resides in our heads and dominates much of our thoughts and behaviour. These negative thoughts can be a low level murmur in the background or a constant clamouring presence that serves to undermine our self belief and confidence in ourselves and abilities. This often unacknowledged aspect of our thinking is so habitual and occurs with such regularity that it becomes the default position and can evoke in us feelings of worthlessness and of not being good enough. At the extreme end of the scale the inner critic can contribute to depression and to high levels of anxiety which can be debilitating and painful.
It is not until we recognise and begin to truly listen to these negative voices that we can begin to do something to silence them and to replace them with kinder and more life affirming messages. To begin with it is a valuable exercise to start compiling a list as soon as the inner critic pops into your head and to consciously observe and note down each word or phrase. This can be an eye opening exercise and can reveal just how insidious and nasty some of these messages to ourselves are. Remember the inner critic is not only describing you in unflattering and derogatory terms such as, fat, lazy, stupid, flaky etc it is also the peremptory voice that is hell bent on pointing out what you ‘should’, shouldn’t’, ‘must’, ‘mustn’t’, be doing, thinking or acting at any given moment.
The next stage of this process of becoming more compassionate towards yourself is to identity where some of these negative and limiting thoughts come from, whether from early childhood experiences of a critical parent or a significant adult or more recently from a colleague or friend. It can often surprise people when they can pin point exactly who said what when and to get in touch with the feelings that these hurtful comments and remarks stir up in them to this day. This by the way is where your Creative Journal (see earlier blog) can help you in expressing these feelings. Finally by replacing the negative thoughts with thoughts that are more realistic and fairer or by using an affirmation each time you catch yourself thinking in the old limiting way will with time, dedication and persistence eventually silence the inner critic.
Writing in a journal is a way of moving our thoughts, ideas and reflections out of our heads and on to paper. But it's not always easy to put our feelings into words or to be able to express deeply felt emotions and thoughts in a way that honours them as we’d truly like to. Of course being able to speak freely to a therapist of our deepest fears or desires is one of the huge benefits of counselling but even then we may feel there are aspects of ourselves that are cut off or we find too shameful to speak of. Many of us encourage our clients to keep journals as part of the healing process, a way of processing unclear or unresolved thoughts that may have arisen in a session or have occurred between sessions. Another kindred form of private reflection is creative journaling which is the use of imagery in combination with or in place of words. By using colour, form or other image making processes it is possible to get in touch with the areas of our psyches that have not yet been revealed to us and free us up to a deeper understanding of ourselves. It is generally accepted that our unconscious mind is receptive to being prompted by visual stimuli or other sensory triggers and art in therapy has a proven track record in the healing process.
Creative journaling is not about making art for outside evaluation, the beauty lies in its being purely for personal attention where every mark or thought is free from criticism or judgement and crucially free from the crippling voice of the inner critic and self-censor. Boldness, honesty and play are what's important and the rest will follow.
Here are some ideas to help you get started
Have just heard an inspiring interview on Woman's Hour on radio 4 with two impressive men, both who campaign and work for women's rights. Doc Brown aka Ben Bailey Smith a comedian and rapper and brother of the author Zadie Smith, is an ambassador for the Great Men Value Women project and Chris Green the campaign director for the White Ribbon Campaign. Both campaign on working with men to highlight misogyny, sexism and violence against women and to encourage men and boys to look at their own narrow gender roles. Well worth a listen - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03mj8lv
I'm not a great believer in new year's resolutions but there is something about a new year that inspires me to take a look at my life and to put in place some of the changes I've put off until now. I think it's knowing that a new year provides another beginning, a renewed version of the past and rekindles a belief in life's possibilities. So in the spirit of starting something new I've started this blog in the hope that my reflections and insights may be of interest to others and I'll strive to keep it fresh and updated on a regular basis. So keep an eye on this space and I wish you all a very happy New Year.