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Moving beyond the inner critic

A mindful response

I've been trying to write a Blog for weeks. But every time I sit, fingers poised over the keyboard, something happens.

I  sit, staring blankly at the screen, at the keyboard...and eventually find myself shutting down the computer, or doing something else – like cleaning the bathroom, or checking

e-mails and browsing other sites.

So what's going on here? 

I've come to realise that the problem isn't a dirth of ideas but the insidious voice of the inner critic.

As I prepare to commit words to screen, a little voice edges its way into my consciousness: “that's no good” (even though I haven't  written a line yet ) “people will laugh at you, judge you, think you are no good” (escalating into a crescendo of condemnation)  “who are you to write a blog on the Inner Critic anyway?”  And the killer blow:- ”your'e a mindfulness teacher for goodness sake! You should be over this by now!”

It sounds laughable as I type this but also highlights just how harsh and strident the inner critic can be.

And without awareness, this voice can become an unwelcome companion who shadows our every step.

Thinking of trying out for that promotion? “Don't even think of it!” rebukes the inner critic - “don't you remember what happened last time you tried that? – it was a complete disaster.”

Thinking of initiating a conversation with that person at the party?: “Don't!” warns the inner critic. “They'll think you're boring and needy – and you've got nothing interesting to say.” And the final put-down: “They won't like you.”

Thinking of voicing your views  at a meeting?:  “Keep your head down – everyone will think you're stupid. You're not as eloquent as everyone else.”

And when you do step outside the inner critic's comfort zone, its tone can become panicked, hectoring – and dissolve into ridicule and “I told you so” when things don't go according to plan.

These ugly, demeaning slurs seem quite shocking when brought out into the open. But more often than not, they survive and thrive in the murky depths of our subconscious mind. And this hyper-vigilant voice can become so normalised that we don't even recognise it or realise how unhelpful and crushing it is. 

We all have an inner critic to some extent, which has its origins in childhood as a survival mechanism to keep us safe and part of a group. 

But while some develop a healthy response to the inner critic, nipping it in the bud before it becomes a life-long habit, others find it harder to separate from. 

However, before the inner critic trots out its: “nothing will ever change” loop, let's pause, take a breath …....and soften towards this tyrant. After all, although misguided, it IS trying to keep us safe in its own warped way. It's just that it doesn't work.

With kindness and patient practice, we can gradually change our relationship to the inner critic.  As our awareness grows, we can tap into a wiser, kinder source of inner strength which allows the  inner critic to feel safe enough to fade into the background. It might even feel safe enough to take a little nap.

Moving beyond the inner critic

Learning to move beyond the inner critic is a necessary journey towards freedom. 

Through mindfulness we can learn to spot the inner critic more quickly and see it for what it is – a parade of unhelpful, ever-repeating thoughts which we don't need to believe. 

We can bring a sense of compassion towards ourselves – and our inner critic - as we truly see how it makes us suffer. And from this, a wiser, kinder voice can begin to emerge.

A healthy response means we won't remain enslaved by its comments ans see that is  a sadly misguided and outmoded set of beliefs.

Things that can help

There is no “right”  way to move beyond  the inner critic and no quick fix either. Each of us has to explore what works for us. Below are some suggestions of things that can help.

  • Practice, practice, practice. Mindful awareness is key to uncovering the inner critic and every time you notice that voice  creeping in, to choose a kinder, wiser response. 
  • Sometimes this might simply involve noting “ah, here you are again,”  softening towards the voice and then carrying on regardless. 
  • Or imagining what you might say to a friend who was being harshly self-critical 
  • At other times, it might be a firm “Enough!” or “not helpful right now thank you”  - not entering a dialogue with the inner critic but firmly and gently nipping it in the bud.
  • Feeling how the inner critic's comments affect the body. Perhaps placing a hand on your heart and offering yourself words of encouragement or kindness.
  • Bringing to mind or imagining a “supporter” or “champion” who is always on hand to reassure, encourage and support you. 
  • It can be helpful to write down what the inner critic is saying so you can recognise how over-the-top its comments are. You can also see what it is trying to protect you from. As you uncover the fear or hurt that lies beneath the voice of the inner critic, a wiser, kinder perspective can emerge. It becomes possible to  tease out what is true and what is merely unhelpful judgement.
  • Simplicity. Taking time on a daily basis to be out in nature - among trees, flowers, fresh air – perhaps taking a mindful walk or simply sitting or lying down and becoming aware of sounds and body sensations.
  • Asking for support from a trusted friend or mentor.
  • Making gratitude and appreciation a deeply-embedded part of your life. 
  • Taking small regular steps to do things which give you (not by the inner critic's standards!) a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
  • Moving out into the world to gain a bigger persepective. Lending a hand, getting involved, perhaps volunteering for a project that has meaning for you or which makes your heart sing.

Extra support

The inner critic can so easily turn the above suggestions into a “to-do list “ and set of rules to be followed (and no doubt fail to live up under its stern gaze!)

In my experience, meeting the inner critic is an on-going process and one that requires much vigilance, gentleness, patience and also humour. It  can be very helpful to be part of a group or to get some support.  

There are many resources out there, some of which I post on my facebook page. 

And if you would like to work in a more structured, detailed and supportive way, why not come on the inner critic course I'm running in the autumn. Check out the Events page for more details.

Get in touch at to register your interest and to find out more.

About Pip Bellis
I am a level III mindfulness practitioner and yoga teacher who loves to help people find greater meaning, satisfaction and ease in their lives.

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