We can all occasionally be too harsh and mean to ourselves, and there is nothing wrong in that. However, if you are too mean to yourself that and it effects your wellbeing or your health, then it is useful and important to deal with your inner critic. Below you’ll find an exercise that helps you to become aware of how you treat yourself, how this affects you, and perhaps even to start getting a better relationship with yourself.
Find a sheet and draw a long line in the middle of the sheet from top to bottom. On the left part you write down what your inner critic says and does, and on the right section you write down how this affects you. Remember that both parts are parts of yourself and that none of the parts are meant to disappear. The point is to become more aware and perhaps develop a better relationship between those parts. Or, download this template (. pdf for printing / . docx to fill out on computer). If you download and complete the form on your computer, remember to save it securely.
In this exercise, we’ve put in examples, but it’s important that you use your own words and experiences. The exercise can be done several times and you will notice that there may be several things that you criticize yourself for. As a critic, you are trying to get to the painful messages you say to yourself. Feel free to be specific and come with examples that reinforce the criticism. As the recipient of the criticism, you should try to feel what it is like to hear this. Use “you” language as the critic and “I” language as the criticized part.
1. What is your critic saying to you?
- Try to become your inner critic for a little while. Write down (on the left side) what you say to yourself. Try to be as specific as possible. Feel free to add specific memories or episodes that “affirm” the criticism. Don’t be afraid to be honest with what you say to yourself. You are already living with this message on the inside.
- “You are a useless person!” Nobody likes you! You’re not ninteresting. Just as you experienced in middle school, when the others in your class wouldn’t hang out with you.”
2. What does it feel like to hear this?
- Read the message from the critic aloud. Notice how it feels in your body at the same time as you read it. What does it feel like to receive this message. Write it down.
- “I feel beaten down and flat when you say that. I feel ashamed, stupid and small, as if nobody likes me. It makes me so small that I can’t look anyone in the eyes. It is destroying me.”
3. What do you need the critic to do or not do?
- Notice what it’s like to be criticized in this manner. Ask yourself what you need from your critic. Try to put words to what you really need to hear. Write it down.
- “I need you to not say the same things that my classmates told me. I need you to be on my team and show me understanding, cheering me forward. I need you to say I am good enough.
4. How does it feel to ask for what you need?
- Read the words aloud, and tell the critic what you need. Notice what it feels like to ask for this. If you notice it feels good to ask for it, then keep asking for it a few times more.
- “It feels invigorating. A little less awful. “
5. As your inner critic, how is it for you to hear this?
- As your inner critic, what do you want to say back? Is it a little bit painful to treat yourself so badly? What have you actually tried to achieve for the part you criticize? Have you tried to help him/her? Is there something very important you are afraid that happens if you do not criticize? Notice what you feel towards the part that is being criticised. Do you feel guilt, caring or compassion towards the criticised part of yourself. Can you meet the need the other asks to get covered? Try to put words to this and show understanding for the other. If it feels right, apologize and say what you will try to do diffeerently.
- If you just feel like criticizing more, go back to step 1 again and continue from there.
- “I hear what you’re saying and I agree. I don’t want you to feel awful. At the same time, I worry that you won’t achieve what you want to achieve. I am also worried that you should feel like you did in school. You have to show yourself a little more acceptance, stand up for yourself. I’m going to try to be less critical and more gentle.”
6. How does it feel to receive this?
- Read out loud what the critic is communicating. Notice how it feels in your body to be met this way. Feel free to tell your critic how it feels. Remind yourself of what is important and good about this. If it is very difficult to do this exercise you can summarize for yourself what is going on and where the process stops. It may be helpful to do the exercise again on later occasions. Perhaps it is easier when you are in a self-critical period or state.
7. How do you want to take this with you going forward?
- Read through the different steps. Make a decision about how you will use this going forward in your life: Do you want to change something? Do you want to commit to something? Do you want to seek the help of others? Write down what you want to do.