You are not broken.
When the inner critic starts to hurl threats and insults at you, your brain responds as if it is literally being attacked. You brain believes that something is trying to harm you, and it sends your nervous system into high alert. Your body immediately shifts into fight, flight, or freeze mode and the rest of you responds accordingly. And your brain is right, something is trying to harm you.
But the attack is coming from WITHIN, not from without.
Often this will look like urges to run away or the sensation of being numb, feeling stuck, an increase in self-criticism, feelings of anxiety, difficulty with language, no confidence, no access to creativity, an expectation of something terrible happening, depression, release of cortisol (the stress hormone), fear, obsessive negative thoughts, and an inability to do your best.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.
After reading my blog last week, a dear friend sent me this video. Watch as these photographers get a painful boost to their inner critics, that causes them to second guess their creativity and lose their confidence.
After watching the video I was inspired to write this blog and share with all of you about how the inner critic is perceived as a threat by the nervous system. This may help explain why you slip down into a negative spiral the moment you self-criticize—IF you do not interrupt the cycle.
In her book Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, Kristin Neff explains there is a remedy to this threat response. The remedy, she says, is self-compassion. I wrote about this last week, when I suggested that we simply be kind to ourselves, and I think it bears repeating.
Neff writes, “Painful feelings are, by their very nature, temporary. They will weaken over time as long as we don’t prolong or amplify them through resistance or avoidance. The only way to eventually free ourselves from debilitating pain, therefore, is to be with it as it is. The only way out is through.”
In other words, if you want to break the cycle of the inner critic, then you must acknowledge and validate your own feelings, be with what is, and give yourself love and compassion. The only way out is through.
When the mean and menacing thoughts pop up, remind yourself that your brain and body are responding to the inner critic as if it were a literal threat, and that the way to calm the threat is self-compassion, kindness, and understanding. Again, just like a child having a tantrum. Scolding, hatemongering, and more criticism will only amp up the problem.
Try this: next time you are able to notice that you are speaking harshly to yourself, simply pause, place your hand on your heart, and softly say, “I know you are struggling right now, and you are still okay. I love you”.
And simply notice what happens.
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What do you think? Let me know if this helps you! xo