We therapists often advise our clients to ignore or reject the inner critic. That’s a little like trying to ignore a pebble in our shoe. What if we can do something productive, like removing the pebble from our shoe? Ignoring it just doesn’t work. What if we were to actually listen to and befriend the inner critic instead of ignoring it?
My meditation practice has helped me separate myself from my inner critic. Through increased awareness, I started to pay attention to that loud voice, rather than it simply being background noise. In fact, I named my inner critic “Bertha.” I have usually told her to go away when her voice gets loud. Nonetheless, in times of stress, Bertha comes around more often, and telling “her” to go away just makes her voice louder. It’s like that pebble in a shoe that gets more and more irritating until we do something about it.
Be Grateful to Everyone
Befriending my inner critic has been a transformative and empowering experience. It started with asking myself: What if Bertha is trying to be helpful but just doesn’t know how to communicate kindly and skillfully?
I am reminded of the Tibetan Buddhist mind-training slogan[a]: “Be Grateful to Everyone.” In her seminal book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living,[b] Pema Chodron notes that this mind-training slogan is about making peace with the aspects of ourselves we have rejected. When we meet someone who pushes our buttons, instead of pushing them away, this slogan teaches us to welcome them in, knowing that they are triggering a part of ourselves we don’t like. Tibetan Buddhist teacher Traleg Rinpoche notes:
If we can shift our focus from our rigid, narrow and habituated points of view, we will empower our ability to embrace situations in a new way so that every situation will start to seem more workable….We should endeavor to think good thoughts about people who have…made our lives quite difficult at time and try to turn those negative situations to our spiritual advantage, so that we become wiser and stronger.[c]
Of course, Bertha is not a real person, but I find this teaching very helpful in working with that part of me that is self-critical. As a result, I have started listening to my inner critic with compassion and curiosity, like I would with a young child who doesn’t yet have the skills to express her needs. Instead of immediately rejecting Bertha, I have started exploring what she is trying to communicate. For example, if Bertha reproaches me for being forgetful or clumsy when I’m stressed out, I can thank her for encouraging me to slow down and take a breath. Befriending my inner critic has helped me embrace parts of myself I have rejected, in a way that empowers me rather than causing harm. I can then actually be grateful to Bertha, for reminding me to be self-compassionate.
[a] There are 59 slogans for training the mind to cultivate lovingkindness and wisdom, as a way to bring the Buddhist teachings into everyday life. The Tibetan term is “lojong”, which means mind-training, or heart-training.
[b] Chodron, Pema, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
[c] Traleg Rinpoche (2007. The Practice of Lojong: Cultivating Compassion through Training the Mind. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, pp. 96-96.
(c) 2019 Beth S. Patterson. All rights reserved.