How to Have a Dialogue with Your Inner Critic

Have your ever noticed what you say to yourself after doing something wrong? Is it mean or extra critical? Is it offering advice without you asking for it? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an inner critic at times. There are definitely ways to put the voice to rest, or at least have a more balanced conversation with it. Hare some some tips that work for me. And yes, i am my own client!

As much as i know that my inner critic is trying to help me, i also have learned that i can choose not to listen to you, and even tell it to go away. Just like learning any new language, being able to talk BACK to your inner critic takes practice. Here are some tips that can help you be fluent in this process.

1) Somatic Sense of Inner Critic
First, it’s important to recognize what your inner critic voice is. What do they say? What is their voice like? Do they blame your or push you down? How do they undermine you.

When your inner critic shows up, see where they live in your body – is it a loud dull pain in your chest, or a sharp scratch on your shoulders. A tool that can help is PATH – notice the pressure, air, tension, heat that may rise in your body. Where is it located? Spend some time noticing this. This mindfulness is a great tool to help you notice your inner critic more quickly. If you can locate the felt sense in your body, you can tend to it more quickly.

You can also do the great tool by Tara Brach called RAIN – recognize what is going on in the given moment allow the experience to be there, investigate with kindness and be open to Nurturing the new awareness with self-compassion. Click here for a lovely guided meditation that Tara has created using this tool.

Be really clear about when the inner critic shows up. They are not your only voice so notice if there is a pattern or consistency when they come up. Notice what your physical reaction is – is there a knot in your stomach, does our throat feel tight, is there a heaviness in your legs? This is the inner critic speaking.

2) Name them
I call mine Pam. She was someone that bullied me when i was in grade 6. I also love these meme: “My inner critic is An Asshole” and find it inspiring.

Acknowledge it is here, but like a vampire, you can tell it to leave. It’s an emotional vampire after all! Say hello to them, and then tell them they are not wanted. Externalizing the voice helps keep it separate from you. As a tool of Narrative Therapy, it is so helpful to externalize this voice as it helps you not take all the blame or responsibility on your shoulders.

The inner critic is an external voice that has been internalized. Spend some time hearing the voice – what does it sound like? Is it your voice or someone else’s? Can you remember when the inner critic was born? Our inner critic is usually related to not allowing ourselves to be proud of our accomplishments. Can you recall what it was like for you as a child? I know that at times, my inner critic has a Serbian accent that is similar to my mom’s. I definitely hear her (now helpful) voice at times, if only when i’m cooking or doing laundry at this point. It now carries a tone of guidance.

Also, it’s totally okay to be rude and interrupt this voice! By doing so, you are establishing a new habit and helping your poor brain make the changes it needs too.

3) Reflect
Spend some time at the end of a day and see how you often your inner critic showed up – we don’t always notice it in the moment. Stay with the feeling to help move through it. You might want to start a journal that helps you record when your inner critic shows up. Is it daily or after a certain thing – like going to the gym, or scrolling through Instagram. Make a point to recall how it felt in your body when your Inner Critic was crashing your party. Then spend some time writing a list of positive things about yourself – work on self-compassion and witnessing your own gains to balance out the judgement. Take a look at Kristin Neff’s work and the helpful journal prompts and exercises that help you reflect. One of my favourite questions form her workbook with Christopher Germer is “Is your Inner Critic tiring to protect you in some way, to keep you safe form danger, to help you, even if the result has been unproductive?”

While it doesn’t always seem like it, but your Inner Critic is a part of us that is trying to help. It is always loudest right before the breakthrough. The inner critic can be a protector for you, as a part of you that helps soothe your worries. It lives in our sympathetic nervous system, that part of the brain that is ready for flight or fight response to a threat or scary challenge. It truly is trying it help, if only in the all the wrong ways.

When you are reflecting, make sure to make a point to also allow space for self-love and acceptance. Talk to yourself like someone you love. Self-affirmation work can be a direct OFFset to the inner critic. Developing a compassionate inner voice can counter the critic. Ask yourself what you can say with love back to the critic. Acceptance is about being good enough or good-ish, very perfect. It is about being okay with what is.


4) From Inner Critic to Inner Guide
Your inner citric needs love. It is trying to help you. It is usually there to protect you from potential shame or failure. Explore what it is trying to tell you. And put it to work. If it’s telling you that what you did is not good enough, as it to do better.

We need a bridge to get to positive so work on being neutral first. It is about being both/and – both a critical lens to help you make sure you got it right AND a compassionate lovely voice that encourages you to try. Bring in a dialogue – add your cheerleader, warrior, nurturer, or wise future self – like Toni or Frida and bring in some self-compassion – remind yourself that your thoughts are not always right so add more to the conversation. When you feel sad about being hard on yourself, give yourself time to feel this and then move on.

For instance, instead of saying…
I am a terrible cook BUT RATHER i am learning to cook
I am a bad mom BUT INSTEAD i am good at taking care of boo boos
I can’t do this TRY I’m going to try my best for today

Sometimes that inner critic is trying to be a guide or reminding you of something hard, but instead of being supportive, it is keeping you stuck. You can thank the critic for supporting you and then say it’s job is no longer needed – the writer Donna Tart has said that she uses criticism as a guide to getting stronger because she treats it like a vaccine. It makes you stronger. Put your Inner Critic to work with something useful! Laura Markham of Aha Parenting speaks further to this idea here.

This might be a tricky question so bear with me, but try and see what part of your houses your Inner Critic? I am not referring the body now, but rather the part of that is wounded. Is it your Inner Child, work-in-progress Goddess, protector, Adult Self, or your Worker Bee? I’m not suggesting we have multiple personalities persay but we are made up of parts that are shaped by the experiences in our life – both the good and the challenging ones. So, this is a chance to re-parent yourself. This Inner Guide may have a calm and warm voice. It cherishes you and accepts you as you are. In time, this voice will become your own and will be more present. Channel this voice as much as you can – it is a practice after all. You truly are learning a new language and what better way to do so than to practice it in a dialogue with someone else!

5) The Four Agreements
This book is to help us be more intentional and loving citizens of the world. So, why not use the 4 principles and apply them to your own self? The book itself is a small book, but it’s quite powerful. The photo here captures the essence of the 4 agreements and I especially like the one “don’t take it personally.”

Speaking of good books to read, here are some great ones that help you become even more fluent! Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Your Resonant Self by Sarah Peyton and
Healing your Emotional Self: A Powerful Program to Help you Raise your Self-Esteem, Quiet your Inner Critic and Overcome Your Shame Beverly Engel

As you start to practice this new intentional relationship with your inner dialogue, be kind and gentle with yourself. Notice the criticism or impatience and send it the kindness you would anyone else that is learning a new language for the first time.

Being Kind to Myself

I spent some time updating my 28 Days of Self-Love Challenge Worksheet recently. In doing so, it gave me time to pause and reflect on what i do myself as acts of self-love or self-compassion. It’s important to practice what i preach, and also note that therapists are not exempt from flaws and needing moments of self-love too. We are all perfectly imperfect, and yet i know that i can be hard on myself because i am SUPPOSED to know better. It’s one of the occupational hazards of being a therapist after all.

With this in mind, i was thinking about how self-esteem, self-worth self-love, self-care and self-compassion all get interchanged and mistaken for each other. While they are woven into each other, it is helpful to notice that one does not feel love just because they care for themselves. Positive self-esteem and self-worth may be the overall hopes for us all, and yet it can be long and complicated journey to get there. When i also clients if they have done something kind for themselves lately, they are quick to counter that they don’t deserve or need it, and some say “I’m not worthy of that because I’m not loveable.”

This is where regular acts of kindness, love and compassion come in. Incorporating them into our daily rhythms helps us build on their importance. That bouquet of fresh flowers that you keep walking past at No Frills, that time it snowed so much and you didn’t leave your bed, that moment where you said No to an annoying co-worker – these are acts of the same compassion and love you would offer a friend.

Let’s be our own best friend.

(if you would like a PDF download of this helpful worksheet, click here: 28 Days of Self-Love (5)

New Moon Series of Self-Care

I can’t believe it’s been over two months since my last post. Clearly life has gotten in the way of blog writing. Now that the Fall season is in full swing, I was able to look back at my last couple of months and notice what’s important to me, what’s missing in my life, what are some things I want to focus on.

So with that in mind, I wanted to bring some intention around my blog writing here – ways that I can both share a bit of me and what i find helpful. Since i focus on how to build a wellness toolkit for trauma survivors and people who are in the throes of new parenthood, I thought I could bring a focus to that.

So I give you the New Moon Self-Care Series. Each month during this Fall season, on the new moon, I’m going to share some ideas and thoughts for that moon cycle as well as an expressive arts-based prompt that can help you bring more self-care practice in your daily life. Expressive Arts Therapy is a great way for our bodies to feel the shift in relationship to what our mind is thinking. Because we are actually doing the work of making something with our hands and bodies, it can help feel like you’re integrating those parts of us that can feel so separate. We do not have to be artists in order to do these activities, nor do we need to spend a lot of money on any of the supplies. You can do this from the comfort from your own home, whether it’s in your bed, on your couch or at a table.

As the inaugural month falls on the month of All Hallows Eve, as well as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, I thought we could do a simple activity that can help us when we need some self-compassion. Take a moment this week to hold space for yourselves in your grief. Sometimes it can be hard to escape that inner voice, so a visual reminder can help. As this new moon falls on a Monday that also happens to be Thanksgiving here in Ontario, it’s a fitting time to take notice of both what we were thankful for as well as what we might need forgiveness for. As we notice the leaves changing just like the cycle of the moon, this starting point of our month can be a great guide to help us take stock in what is changing for us – what do we can change as well as what is evolving around us.

One thing we can control is the messages we keep in our mind about ourselves. I know that sounds easy to do and yet the reality can be so hard. This activity provides you with a simple watercolour practice as well as an opportunity to put down a mantra that could help you heal and find comfort. By making it yourself, your body and mind both can hold its message longer than if you were to buy a set of coasters.

Self-Compassion Coaster
Supplies:
Coaster or thick paper cut to size
Watercolour paints and brushes, bowl of water
Decoupage glue and brush
Magazine and scissors (optional)

Steps:
1) Before you start it can be helpful to help you set your mind and stage at ease. Listen to a guided visualization or meditation to help centre yourself and feel more connected to the activity.
2) Once you’ve done that, now spend a moment thinking about an affirmation, a quote, or a lyric that really speaks to you. It can be simple, a word, or something you’ve heard said again and again.
3) Once you’ve thought of the saying, now get your watercolours out and think about what feels like the right colour and motion you’d like to put down on the coaster. It could be swirls or an actual image – whatever speaks to you. Feel free to combine and colours or just stick to one.
4) Leave it to dry for a few minutes and have a cup of tea. Once the coaster is dry, you can now add the saying. I like to use permanent marker with a fine point instead of paint as I find that’s neater for me, but you can use whatever you like. Feel free to get creative – you could also use magazine cut-outs as a collage or use letters as a way to put your saying down.
5) Leave the coaster to dry completely. Once dry, add some decoupage glue to help seal your work and this also can help make it waterproof. And you’re done! Find a good place to keep this coaster is a nice reminder to you for those moments you need some extra love and self-compassion.

28 Days of Self-Love

The card i pulled from my deck in January was Brigid – she came a month early for me as she’s the Goddess connected to Imbolc in February. She is a Goddess of healing, and brings fertility to the land and its people. She is also closely connected to midwives and newborn babies. She sits at my alter all month to remind me of her energy so i’m sharing her with you now.

February is a tricky month for a lot of us. If you are like me and you live where Winter really visits, then February is cold and full of snow. It makes it hard to go out and do things, to be spontaneous and have fun. I’m not opposed to getting cozy at home, in fact i kind of treasure it. But it can lead to a bit of Cabin Fever.

Another pitfall of February is that Valentine’s Day is in the middle of it. This holiday carries with it a love-hate feeling, whether you are single or not, as it pushes a lot of us to DO and GET and BE so much more than we typically are. The pressure is on for sure. A few years ago, i heard about a reclaiming of the day, a way to re-connect with our own selves, as to focus on self-love more than an arbitrary outpouring of love that is dictated by stores telling us how to show love.

So, since my word of the year is LOVE, i thought it was a good time to create this helpful tool to intentionally provide myself with some gifts of self-love. Each day has a simple and gentle suggestion for you to practice. Some take a few minutes, and others are a bit longer. I also made sure to connect it to key dates in the month – February 2 is Candlemas/Imbolc so a good time to plant seeds or get fresh flowers, February 14 of course, February 15 is the New Moon of the month (did you know there is NO Full Moon? So interesting…). Feel free to change up the days, but do try to give yourself these moments of self-love. Click HERE for a full size copy of this guide.

I see a lot of connection between self-love and self-compassion, and also the need to steal time as a working mom of two young kids. I may not have the abundance of time to leisurely eat brunch as i once did, but i do have the right to eat the best chocolate i can get my hands on, and to take a break from self-judgement and critique.

Please join me this month!

Acts of Self-Love

It’s February already. The month of L O V E. I like to call it the month of self-love, so I appreciate the movement that is going around to acknowledge this. Here in Canada, February is a cold and dreary month. As today is February 2 (aka Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Imbolc), I like to set the intention to do some gentle and relaxing things for myself this month. It’s a good month to experiment with things that give you love and also times of rest and comfort.

I recently discovered a great site, and the writer has put together a pledge to do daily acts of self-love and blissful activities. Since that is in tune with my own intention, I’m following her plan. Here is a link to it so you can read more.
flowers at work
For instance, yesterday we were to find something beautiful and keep it within eyesight or our reach. That way, we can see and notice it more readily. For me, I was wearing my new favourite pink top and fun necklace. I was constantly looking down at this pop of fun colour, and it was such a nice treat for me. Like secret pick-me-ups. The photo above is a capture of the plant i have at my office. I just noticed today it has sweet pink buds forming. Of course, i moved the plant over to my desk to keep it closeby.

Today, she encouraged us to think of a teany tiny habit that makes me feel happier. For me, it’s making my bed. I love being able to dress and walk around my room with my bed all made up and inviting. It takes no time and I look forward to being enveloped by it later tonight. I can picture my bed throughout the day, and can’t wait to be there.

I don’t force my kids to make their beds, but they see my ritual in doing so each day. And so, when my son makes his own bed without prompting, my heart is full and I’m overjoyed that he made the step to do that for himself.

We are also doing this lovely activity as a family. Each night (or close enough to this, who am i kidding), I’m asking my family to share 1 thing they love about each of us. We had a fun time doing it last night. My daughter wanted a heart for herself – as she reminded us that it is important to love ourselves too. I couldn’t have said it better. I am keeping them answers on a sheet of paper and we have it on the ready, to read anytime.

What are some things you can do as acts of self-love? Simple, gentle, inexpensive prompts that remind you that are loved and important: you deserve moments of bliss and beauty. In this ugly time in our world, it’s a quiet act of rebellion to be a self-love warrior.

Nurturing You


I was having a conversation with a colleague recently about the term ‘self-care.’ We both noticed that it is used quite often and in abandon, but maybe some of us still struggle with how to incorporate it into our lives. And then she told me that we in fact need to look at things that nurture us – Nurture.

I held onto that word for a bit and it really resonates with me. To do something nurturing is to feed my body and mind in a way that is both cleansing and invigorating. And more importantly, something that is nurturing also lasts for a while – be it a day, part of a day, or days and days.

Like for example, something I find nurturing is being close to water. Playing on the beach with my kids, floating in the water, feeling the warm sun on me – that nurturing moment last for at least 2 days for me. Self-care acts don’t typically last as long. Something I do for self-care is watch a funny TV show, eat some dark chocolate after a stressful day, or knit with music playing in the background.

Do you see the difference?

We definitely need self-care, but I think we need to increase ways we nurture ourselves too. We are taught that we need to be nurturing to our children – to cuddle them, hug and kiss them, to provide food and shelter, to help them fall asleep, to nurse their boo boos, you get the picture. But who reminds you to do that same for yourself as a mama?

So, what can you do to increase both your self-care acts as well as your nurturing moments? What can you commit to doing each day so that you are nurturing yourself as well? There are some simple daily rituals that can be so meaningful and life-affirming. Like, a morning shower that cleanses away the yesterdays, a quiet moment drinking a cup of tea before others are awake in your home, time outdoors admiring yours (or others) gardens.

It can also be the monthly date you have with your girlfriends, or the long bike ride you haven’t had the chance to go on in months. In our world of needing to accomplish, stay busy, and multi-task, sometimes the best thing for us is to just sit with a good book or a fun magazine AND a box of chocolates. Put your un-pedicured feet up and savour the quiet. That is a nurturing moment that reaches you deep inside and sustains us.

I read about something called the “Beauty Vitamin” and it captures how I feel about self-care so well: “Start with doing something creative you know you love. Do that. Keep doing it. Follow the beauty in your life and ingest it daily, like vitamins” (source: Creative Light Studio )

Think about consciously celebrating the small thrills. It can be the way fresh strawberries taste, seeing a child play outside, or listening to birds sing outside your window. These little moments are so easy to skip by. And yet, it can be so healing when being present with the beauty around us. Think of these moments as ‘beauty vitamins.’ In the journey of self-care, acknowledging beauty both inside and out is essential. Collecting small moments like this trains your mind to find it everywhere and it then becomes something you can draw from when skies are greyer and you need a boost.

So, take a moment today to think about what your daily rituals of self-care and nurturance can be. Write the list out and keep it handy like a grocery list. Refer to it, practice it. Brainstorm things you love to do, things you used to do, and see how you can get them back in you life, one way or another.

You deserve it.