In this Thriver Blog, Danielle Ratliff continues to share her path to healing with ideas around how you can quiet your inner critic. We would love to hear which ones speak to you. Here’s to Thriving!
Everyone has an inner critic. You’re probably familiar with this voice – it’s the one that doles out doubts, fears, and limiting beliefs. It’s a normal part of being human. However, this voice can grow exponentially after a traumatic experience. It tells us we are broken and permanently scarred, that it was our fault and we deserved it. It says we aren’t worthy of joy, love, and fulfillment. We may not speak these thoughts out loud, but they play on repeat in the background.
Most of us would never say the things our inner critic says to us to anyone else. If a friend spoke to us like our inner critic, they’d be a horrible friend. We’d walk away from every conversation feeling drained and disheartened. Hopefully, we would learn to limit our interactions or, even better, cut this person out of our lives completely. But this voice isn’t someone “out there.” It’s inside us.
So, what are we supposed to do?
How do we control the voice that spews negativity?
I don’t have all the answers, but here are some practices that can help quiet your inner critic:
Ask the divine for assistance. You can call it God, the Universe, Source, Spirit, consciousness, higher self, inner light, or any other word that feels right. The important part is recognizing that a loving presence patiently waits for you to request help and guidance. A complicated prayer or extensive ritual isn’t necessary unless those practices resonate with you.
I visualize white light flowing into the top of my head, down my body, and out of my fingers and toes before asking for help. Don’t get caught up in the specifics or the hows. Instead, have faith that your higher power is delivering the exact assistance you need.
Remind yourself that thoughts are just thoughts. Just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s accurate, especially if the thought is coming from the voice of your inner critic. Think of this voice as someone else, something separate from who you are at your core. Give the voice a name if that helps.
In your mind or out loud, say, “Inner critic (or the name you’ve given it), I know you are speaking from a place of fear. I am choosing to think and speak from a place of love. I am redirecting my energy to the positives and good in my life. I release you from my mind with loving kindness.”
Safely express your feelings physically. Trauma survivors often bottle their emotions and lock them away inside. These repressed feelings can manifest as our inner critic. Physically releasing these pent-up emotions creates space for more positive thoughts.
You could scream into a pillow and have an ugly cry. Punch your mattress. Or take it a step further: buy a pair of boxing gloves and hang a punching bag to use at home. Maybe it is mentally releasing these emotions into a rock and throwing it far into a lake.
Tune in to the present moment with your physical senses and environment. What do you smell? Taste? Hear? What do you see around you? Is your body touching anything? Do you feel hot or cold? Pay attention to any colors, textures, sounds, and smells.
Take it a step further by writing your observations down or say them out loud: “My cat is sleeping on my desk while I type. I hear birds singing outside. The room is warm. The black keyboard feels smooth under my fingers….”
Incorporate positive affirmations into your daily routine. Our inner critic repeats itself again and again; override the critic’s negativity with uplifting affirmations. Use present tense statements like I am instead of I will.
These are some of my personal favorites: I am enough. I am worthy. I am loved. I am safe. I am at peace with myself. I am calm. I am joyful. I am kind, loving, harmonious, and happy.
Write your affirmation down, state it out loud in a confident voice, or think it to yourself. Repetition and consistency are vital. Try writing the same affirmation 50 to 100 times on a sheet of paper or in your journal before starting your day.
Focus on your breath for a few minutes. Trauma survivors’ sympathetic nervous systems, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response, are often in overdrive. Deep breathing practices can activate your parasympathetic (or “rest & digest”) nervous system.
Try this simple breathing exercise: Take a deep inhale, filling your lungs completely, and slowly count to 5 in your mind; pause and hold your breath for a count of 5; slowly exhale to the count of 5. Notice your belly expanding on the inhales, emptying on the exhales. Repeat it at least three times.
Take a meditation time out. Meditation isn’t for every trauma survivor, but it’s done wonders for quieting my inner critic and calming my mind. It sets the tone for my day and helps me sleep at night. The good news is you don’t have to sit cross-legged on a yoga mat for an hour unless that’s your thing. Even a few minutes a day can help.
Listening to guided meditations gives your mind something to focus on if silent meditation is intimidating. Let go of the idea you’re supposed to achieve blank mental space right away. I’ve practiced for years, and my mind still wanders at times, especially if my inner critic is fired up. Instead of getting frustrated, give yourself grace and bring your focus back to your practice again and again. Luckily, even if your conscious mind wanders, your subconscious mind is always listening and receiving benefits.
And of course, if your inner critic is particularly unruly, I encourage you to talk to a professional. A licensed counselor or psychologist can help you make peace with yourself in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Therapy was absolutely essential in my healing process. It helped me recognize my negative thought patterns and release unnecessary shame. Without it, my inner critic would still be in control. Psychology Today has a searchable directory of trauma therapists available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/trauma-and-ptsd.
With practice and conscious effort, we can tame our inner critics and truly thrive after trauma. Yes, we have scars, but we are not broken. We are more than our inner critics and negative thought patterns. Each of us is worthy of a joyful, fulfilling life. Speak kindly to yourself because you deserve all the love in the world, and the most impactful changes always begin within.
With gratitude, love, and light,
You can read more of Danielle’s articles and explore her guided meditation offerings at https://www.joyfulrising.com. Sign up for her email listserve to receive access to a free 5-minute mindfulness meditation for stress & anxiety. You can also follow her on Instagram @joyfulrising, Facebook, or Linked In.