Shadow Wrangling: Effectively Taming Our Inner Critic

Do you ever have the feeling that, if everything isn’t going well, you aren’t worthy enough to share your voice or wisdom?  

Have you encountered that internal voice proclaiming that your struggle is a weakness that must be hidden at all cost?

Have you sat with the shame of feeling like there must be something wrong with you because you don’t have everything figured out?

If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone!

It’s as if there’s an invisible decree silently declaring that, if you haven’t cracked the success, health, love, and happiness code and know exactly what you are doing in every moment, your wisdom and presence isn’t worthy of expression.

I find it interesting that we tend to curate our Facebook and Social Media profiles to denote the highest level of success, love, and happiness. It’s as if we are afraid that our reputations will somehow be soiled if we show a millimeter of weakness or (gasp) authenticity.

What if someone posted a picture of you in your sweatpants and old, favorite, ratty t-shirt, a far cry from the professionalism you typically exemplify? What if you were secretly filmed having a tantrum and it was posted all over the internet? What would your initial, gut reaction be?

Did you know that, although we idolize perfection, the majority of us have a negativity bias? What this means is that even if 90% of our day flows in complete harmony, just one negative encounter can negatively skew our perception of our entire day.

Why is the concept of the negativity bias so important?  It elucidates how we often interrelate and perceive ourselves in the larger, global context. If you often feel like you are never doing enough or that your standards fail to meet your expectations, your negativity bias is likely sabotaging your life.

It’s common knowledge that the harshest, most punishing critics in our lives always emerge from within. We are each additionally burdened by our very own unique, disparaging ‘Inner Critic.’ Our Inner Critic is the harsh inner voice that tells us that we will never measure up or get it right.

When we feel ashamed and worthless with nothing of value to offer, our Inner Critic is hard at work.  It works overtime to make sure we stay trapped in our shame and pain cycle, preventing us from reaching out for the help and love we need.

When our Inner Critic and negativity bias are in overdrive, they create the perfect storm. Feelings of being stuck, depressed, anxious or even worthless may arise.

It’s no wonder that when the inevitable “sh– hits the fan” in our struggles with our relationships, health, work and core identities, our first inclination is to hide it. They don’t call our darker, more hidden nature the ‘Shadow’ for nothing!

 To make matters worse, we usually feel alone in our distress, and reluctant or ashamed to ask for help.  The pain combined with the shame of succumbing to our struggles springs a perfectly complex trap. We are naturally inclined and encouraged to continue to minimize or even discount our suffering.

I aptly refer to this condition as “The Good Soldier Syndrome.” We have been taught to revere the people that soldier on, powering through tremendous duress and challenge with no complaint.

So, how do you begin to work with this convoluted and painful dynamic and keep your Inner Critic in check?

Just having an awareness of your Inner Critic and negativity bias can help you shift into greater consciousness, leading to more profound self-compassion, acceptance, and love.

When you notice your Critic being particularly loud and convincing, just talk back!  It might sound crazy, but it undoubtedly works!  If you can create a dialogue with the part of yourself that feels critical, you’ll probably find that your Critic is just trying to protect you from something it perceives as threatening.

An interesting practice that I have found to be extremely helpful is to stop, take a moment to breathe, be present with yourself and ask your Inner Critic why it’s treating you so unkindly.

Allow yourself to remain open and curious about what it expresses. This may be communicated through words, emotions, and even visuals. Acknowledging and embracing your fear and pain can often promote self-compassion and understanding.

Your negativity bias and Inner Critic are bound to become inflamed when you are beginning to embark on a growth path.

When you find yourself in a feedback loop of negative self-talk that’s getting in the way of your progress, I recommend that you turn towards the part that’s afraid and acknowledge its fear. Set a boundary with it as you would with a person who wasn’t treating you respectfully.

You might say something like, “I appreciate that you are trying to protect me, but you are holding me back.” Envision yourself creating more space between you and this aspect of yourself. Honor its fear and, if possible, send it love and kindness.

Let it know it’s okay to be afraid and that you’ve got this covered.  Becoming aware of your Inner Critic disempowers it so that it no longer influences your choices or drives your consciousness.

You become free to choose how to more healthfully relate to your ‘self’ and others.

With time and practice, you might even find that it becomes possible to make friends with your Inner Critic.

Just as you, I am human and vulnerable to pain, suffering, and struggle. Before a big professional launch, television shoot, live talk, or workshop, I always encounter the familiar grip of fear and the voice that asks if what I have to offer is truly valuable. I still have moments of doubt and times when I’d rather give up.

The truth is, our definition of weakness and vulnerability has been wrong all along. When we dare to be vulnerable in acknowledgment of all that we are and still persevere, that is the definition of true strength.

The next time you find yourself ensnared in a negative spiral, remember, you are not alone. We all experience deep pain and many of us have experienced unimaginable suffering and tragedy.  It’s okay to show weakness, make mistakes and ask for help.  We all need help, love, and support along the way.

You are a vital and integral part of this world with tremendous value and wisdom to share. You are deeply needed and we need each other to continue to safely steer the chaos of this world towards more peaceful waters.

We exist in a world of increasing alienation, polarity, and division. Healing the divide begins with our willingness to listen, be open and curious, and be there for our ‘selves’ and each other.

Please share your thoughts.

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