The best way to stop your inner critic – name it, shame it and leave yourself a voice message
I have a voice in my head. I call her Evil Edwina. I’m not suffering from psychosis or schizophrenia or paranoid delusions. In fact, I’m very normal because most people who have suffered from low self-esteem in their life have this voice in their head. It’s called an inner critic but I gave mine a name because it’s one of the best ways to deal with the constant barrage of abuse I get from it day after day.
Naming your inner critic is a well-known therapeutic technique for those dealing with this type of problem. If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself having to put up with these kinds of remarks: “You are SO selfish. Why would you say something like that?” or “Stop trying to be something you’re not. Everyone can see through you. They’ll find out how awful you are sooner or later anyway” or “Well done for screwing that up again. How typical of you.”
Sound familiar? Most people have a version of Evil Edwina in their heads. Most people think it IS them – an inside voice that’s talking to them. But, as I discovered while training to be a Mindfulness teacher, this voice is not mine. It’s someone else’s from my past. And by naming it I was able to start distancing myself from it. Because, as studies have shown, we are more likely to accept bullying and unkind remarks from ourselves than we are from other people. If anyone talked to me the way I let my inner critic talk to me, the first thing I would say is: “Oi you! How dare you talk to me like that!” By naming my critic Edwina, I am taking that first step away from that critical voice and telling it to back the hell off.
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I was also told to try and picture what Edwina looks like. At first, I had her looking like a version of me but as a hideous hag, complete with straggly grey hair and mangled teeth, crouched down under a table, occasionally coming out to spit and howl at me.
But then that picture changed when I was asked to try and remember whose voice it reminded me of – was it a parent? A bully at school? A sarcastic teacher? An old boyfriend? When I really picked apart what memories were triggered when I tuned into the voice, I was surprised to find it was someone I would never had even considered.
My Evil Edwina voice actually belongs to an old family friend. She was a woman who held beauty above all other qualities. She was a terrible snob, who judged people on their looks, on their homes and on their successes. Every time we visited her I felt inadequate, judged, and at various times even ridiculed.
I should by rights hate this woman for chipping away at my self-esteem but when I now analyse her behaviour I can see that she reacted to me and the world around her precisely because she felt inadequate herself. It was as if she was judging people before she herself could be judged. So already, by feeling sorry for her, I was lessening the impact of her words. And by picturing this woman – and not the straggly old hag version of me – I can depersonalise her and also distance herself from me. By doing this I am reinforcing the idea that this inner voice does not belong to me but is the voice of someone who I should actually feel sorry for and just ignore.
This woman’s name wasn’t Edwina but I named her that because I wanted to pierce that power with one of the most wonderful things we humans possess - humour. One of my favourite films is the Steve Martin comedy “All Of Me” (which ironically is about the spirit of one woman – Edwina - taking over the body of another woman.) It’s a film that has happy memories for me as I used to watch it with my best friend and we would always quote the phrase “Edwina! Back in bowl!” (Here’s a video clip of the film so you get the picture. The accent is a bit impolitically correct but there you go, it was made in the Eighties.)
So now whenever I need to minimise this voice in my head that’s popped up to criticise me, I say “Edwina! Back in Bowl!” (complete with inappropriate accent.) Immediately, it has the effect of deflating the mean comments my inner critic is throwing at me and instead it makes me laugh and makes me realise how ridiculous and dramatic those comments actually are. I also sometimes talk back to Edwina and say things like: “You’re deluded. Everything you’re saying is absolute rubbish. You’re just being a massive drama queen. Chill the hell out and get off my back because you have nothing of any consequence to say and I’m not going to waste my precious time listening to you anymore.”
Another brilliant way of realising how damaging and pointless this inner critic is, is to leave yourself a voice message. So, if you’re in a particularly “beat yourself up” frame of mind when you are believing the horrible lies your inner critic is telling you, you follow this method:
1. Pick up your phone, dial your own number and leave a message to yourself, saying all the things your inner critic is usually telling you. Really go for it. Snarl, growl and spit all those words out onto that message. This firstly has the therapeutic effect of getting everything of your chest.
2. Now go and get yourself a cup of tea, sit down and forget about it by distracting yourself with work, or a book or magazine for 15 minutes. (Don’t go on social media because – as even Mark Zuckerberg has admitted – social media is not good for our mental wellbeing.)
3. Now you’ve given yourself a bit of distance, ring back your voicemail and listen to that message you left yourself. Suddenly you will realise how horrible that voice is, and how if someone else left you that message you’d probably banish them from your life for good. Play it back a couple of times and try and figure out who that voice reminds you of.
4. Play the message back one last time and start to answer it back, get angry with it, shout at it, defend yourself. Tell that inner critic that you are no longer going to listen to its lies. Then delete the message.
5. The last part of the process is to ring yourself back and leave a lovely message to yourself. Recount all the good qualities you have. Don’t be self-depreciating. You can be as boastful as you like because no one else is going to hear it but you. Remind yourself of all the wonderful things you’ve done, all the kind gestures you’ve made, all the tough times you’ve managed to come through. List everything you can think of. And then ring your voicemail and listen to that message.
6. Keep that message and ring it whenever that inner critic pops up again.
The LightHearts UK resident psychiatric nurse, Liz Axham, concludes: "Low self esteem stems from feelings entrenched both from the past and the present in our thoughts. Maintaining it though, is something we do in the now. Our inner dialogue can be either self soothing or self destructive. If your inner dialogue treats you like the worst school bully you need to address it. If you start to name it in the moment and catch it when it speaks at you, you can challenge it. Would you say that to your best friend? Your mother? Your kid? Likely not. So why is it okay to say it to yourself? Notice it, question it and challenge it!"
We hope some of these techniques help you to banish that nasty inner critic into the outer reaches of Mordor. It always manages to pop up whenever we’re feeling vulnerable, but always remember that you have the power to turn away from it and not listen to its lies anymore.
For more help in quietening negative brain chatter just click HERE for Week 2 of the LightHearts UK Mental Wellbeing Course that gives helpful audios and tips with how to calm our minds and bring peace into our lives.
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