The monster under your bed or is it the voice in your head?

‘You’re really an awful person!’ ‘Why are you so freakin’ lazy?’ ‘C’mon you know you’re fat.’ ‘You can’t do it, you know that.’ ‘Was it really good what you did?’ ‘Everybody will see that you’re a failure, it’s just a matter of time.’  The conversations we have with ourselves, what are they and how to cope with them?

 

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Inner demons.

 

The inner critic or the voice that lived in my head for as long as I can remember. The thing is that I don’t really know who’s voice it is. It sounds so ‘not me’ that for the longest time I couldn’t believe it was me. I thought it was my mother’s voice (which it sometimes IS) or thoughts from other people who are judging me.

 

My inner critic is very harsh and demanding. That makes it exhausting to live with it. The relationship with your inner critic isn’t simple. It is the adult equivalent of the monster under your bed. Does everyone have this voice? Do you have one? Or more? What does it tell you? I learned that we all have an inner critic which is reassuring to me because I thought I was a bit crazy here. This leads us to the core question of who is this inner critic?

 

 

Who is the inner critic really?

 

It seems to be the gathering of voices of people who are emotionally significant to you. Those people speak to you through the inner critic. Usually we’ve heard the things the critic says a number of times during significant moments in our lives. Moments when we ourselves were looking for some clarity or things to hold on to. During uncertain or significant times, we’ve internalized norms, values and advice. They came to live with us and made a home for themselves in the deepest of our thoughts. These voices keep on playing like a broken record, broken because we don’t need the advice or hurtful quotes anymore. We are adults now and are perfectly capable to live accordingly our own values, opinions and advice. Things your inner critic says to you can be ‘everybody needs to like you,’ ‘you need to be productive,’ ‘you’ll never get anywhere without hard work’. I also think that the inner advice or criticism you hear can be your own conclusions during a vulnerable time. As a child you maybe saw or felt what the desired response or way of living was. This was modeled to you and you packed it in your suitcase on your journey through life. It can be something you thought at the time to be helpful or desired.

 

 

Why do we keep those voices? Why do we still travel with a suitcase we packed years ago?

 

There is a gap between the life we actually live and the life we think we’re ought to live. We try to close that gap but are still confronted with it. When the inner critic merge its head from time to time, that doesn’t pose a problem. The problem occurs when we hear it every day, on a continuous basis and when the voice is plain evil. When you hear something long enough, you believe it. We listen to that voice as if it is the truth and we come to believe that we are that awful person that is just unlovable. We can endure these voices for years and sometimes even a lifetime.  The voice promises to close the gap but never delivers.

 

The inner critic is a gathering of all important opinions of our parents, the media, the church, society, a teacher, … ‘Be honest’, ‘Do your best’, ‘Act normal’, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ …

 

Does everyone struggle with an inner critic?

 

To a certain point we all do. There is no difference in man and woman. We are most vulnerable to hear our inner critic in times of a crisis or when we feel insecure. When we have problems with our children, when we’re in the middle of a divorce or when we’re starting a new career. The inner critic isn’t exclusively reserved for those difficult times but it starts engaging our brain when we think we are deeply relaxed. When, after a long day of work, we’re unwinding in front of the tv. We tend to look outside and we notice the weed growing in our garden. We start thinking, just under the surface, ‘we need to fix that’, ‘that is not a nice garden’, ‘we’re having a cook out next weekend’, ‘hmmm’. Our brain is always active, in different modes, but active, 24/7. When we’re thinking ‘nothing’ our brain is in default mode network [2], [3], which if you would it under a scan it resembles the areas that are active when you’re worrying. And it works in a loop. ‘We didn’t work hard enough’, ‘now there is weed in the garden’, ‘I can be so lazy,’ ‘why am I thinking that?’ ‘I don’t want to think that’, ‘what stupid thoughts!’ If this happens in a crisis, we overthink, ruminate and think ourselves literally ‘crazy’.

 

How the loop works.

 

The problem as it present itself, is that when confronted with a problem in our thinking, we tend to think about it to try to solve it. We, in the West, are very cerebral beings, we live more in our heads than in our bodies or through feelings. (I know I do.) When trying to solve a thinking problem with thinking in a time of crisis we can make things worse. We overthink, exhaust ourselves or can become panicked because the thinking isn’t working but we keep on doing it.

 

When confronted with a problem, we tend to think about it.

 

Is it possible to make amends with the inner critic?

 

It would be awesome if we could look at ourselves from a distance and we could make amends with the inner critic. Maybe then we can live with it in a more peaceful way. How to go about it?

 

Life happens now but our thoughts and attention are with ‘later, tomorrow or the next weekend’. ‘I need to do the dishes later, after I’ve finished this blog and tomorrow I’ll go grocery shopping so maybe I should take a shower. And for the groceries, what will we eat next week and what if they still don’t have any flour in store?’ We anticipate or ruminate and while doing that we evaluate, thus giving the inner critic a forum.

 

Tip number one: No fighting but inviting.

We shouldn’t push him [1] away. When we notice the voice we can tell it that it is welcome but that we don’t have much time for it. It isn’t productive to push the inner critic away by fighting it. It’s a fight you’ll never win. When you fight it by thinking ‘But that’s not true. I am not a loser!’ or ‘Why oh why must I think this awful things?’, you’ve lost the game. You can’t outrun the inner critic because he knows about that one particular time when you were the loser and he’ll remind you of that.  So tip number 1: No fighting but inviting.

 

Tip number two: Get to know your inner critic.

Observe when or in which situations the inner critic likes to turn up. This can be when you’re going for a stroll, when you’re driving or when you’re listening to music. He likes to visit you when your mind is susceptible to messages and thoughts, that very moment when you think that you’re unwinding the mind. It is recommended not to let your thoughts flow or go in overdrive but to notice them and softly turn your attention to the present moment. Noticing other things that are happening right now around you. Hear the birds singing, feel the sunshine on your face or the wind blowing your ears off. That way we can try not to fall into the pits of rumination.

 

Who exactly is talking to you? Who is judging you?

 

You can examine who exactly is speaking to you. Who is it that is talking and who is it that is judging? When you look around and you notice the dust, you may think ‘I’m such a bad homekeeper.’ But be honest with yourself here. It is you that think that a sparkling house is a priority or is it maybe … your mom? And does it matter to you, the dust, really? Or is it a norm or judgement that traveled with you in your suitcase a long long time ago? What if the inner critic doesn’t take no for an answer? What if he stays, even uninvited?!

 

Tip number three: Make an appointment.

No, not with me but with your inner critic. Invite him, give him pen, paper and your hand. Write it all down, all of the thoughts. Read it and say to him: ‘Fine, I see what you mean. I do understand your concerns. Let’s see what we can do about them’. When you practice this exercise when you need it, you’ll see and understand that your inner critic is a pain in the ass, a very repetitive one for that matter. By repeating this exercise you’ll take his power away and you’ll become stronger than him.

 

 

Notes,  resources and further reading.

 

Online podcast (in Dutch), ‘Are you your own worst enemy?’ (2020).

[1] I write ‘him’ to reference my inner critic, that is how it feels for me. The inner critic can be a she, he or an it or what you want it to be.

[2] Bits of Psychology – rumination.

[3] Bits of Psychology – rumination and its consequences.

Picture credits click here.

25 thoughts on “The monster under your bed or is it the voice in your head?

  1. Excellent post! I remind myself often “what you resist will only persist”…..I get so caught up in loops at times it can be difficult to untangle myself. The key to untangling is always to accept. It feels like it’s against our nature! We want to fight and be strong.
    I think I have multiple inner critics, I’m learning to play nice with them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is correct that we have many of those voices in our own minds. Accepting seems to be one of the key concepts. Knowing what to accept in order (maybe) to let go. Also finding balance and honor regular bowl movements 😂
      I was (am?) very afraid of my inner critic but now, through learning more about it, I’m trying to play nice too. A more inviting attitude can help.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think there is a demon in all of us, but most people, most of the time, are able to dial it down so that it doesn’t drown everything else out. It is when we can’t that it is a problem.
    I think, too, that there is a fine balance between thinking we are useless at something, and wanting to get better at it. Again, that is two perspectives of pretty-much the same thing.
    I could not help noticing that the demon was a “he” all the way through the post, but maybe you rescued yourself at the very end? 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The possible change in perspective is a very interesting remark!
      As I wrote on my resumé (because it needs to be ‘personal’ or something): My motto is: ‘I’ve never done it, so I think I can’. 🙂
      And with some little adjustments like that and analyzing the inner critic a little, life will become even better!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just think from the very extreme. An Olympic athlete, say, will always want to go faster, higher etc. Okay, they will be especia;;y competitive people, but even I wanted to improve my bike times, even though I was only half of an athlete’s speed (and twice their age).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And to be competitive is not wrong, just when your thoughts become too harsh to enjoy or to see it in the right perspective, it can become a problem.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know in general but I’ve noticed that the inner critic became more powerful or even intertwined with my negative thoughts about the world and myself during depression.
      Due to lack of energy I fought him hard but became more depressed.
      As far as I know the inner critic isn’t a symptom of a specific mental illness but from my experience I can tell you that it made my recovery more difficult. I see my symptoms separate from the inner critic but they both need attention and care to become ‘lighter’. Thank you for your question, it made me think 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That is one of the reasons I blog, to remind myself of ‘my’ good advice 🙂
      For me it helps to bundle it up in a post, organize my thoughts and have some ‘clear’ point to start to work with. And the subjects are the one I want/need to pay attention too.
      Thank you for reading and commenting! x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that repetitiveness you mention is a key aspect of the inner critic. I’ve had occasional thoughts that I’d “never” do something, but they were a one-time occurrence that I was later able to overcome. However, the day-after-day thoughts of what I “should” be doing and “why can’t I” manage this or that, those are the ones that gradually wear a space in the mental self-image for themselves if not addressed.

    I really like your third tip, having a consultation with your inner critic. Thinking of the source of those thoughts as a disgruntled inner persona that needs to get some things off their chest makes it seem less daunting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does doesn’t it? Instead of chasing the voices or feeling bad about them, I really think a soft confrontation could be the best option. To listen and to accept and then to let go. And maybe the inner critic isn’t so bad after all, who knows? Thank you for your support and comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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