Deep Inner Confidence can only happen when you quieten your Inner Critic
If you want to be guided by your true inner wisdom (or you could say your heart, your authentic self, your soul, intuition – whatever feels right for you), you need to learn how to quieten your fear-based Inner Critic – aka your Ego. (I am using capital letters deliberately, because I want to acknowledge that this is an entity seperate from you.)
The first step to making changes is to identify what’s actually going on. You need to get to know the different ‘voices’ in your head, so you can distinguish between your fearful Ego voice and your more authentic Soul voice. It is really important to notice what these two conflicting voices say, when they say it and get to know what makes them tick.
Then we need to choose which voice to listen to, just like we choose which radio station to listen to. You have the ability to tune in or to tune out whenever you want – you just need to train yourself to do so.
When you know what your Ego voice is scared of and is trying to protect you from you can soothe it. Like a child you can give it the love and safety it deserves without letting it make the decisions.
For example, when it’s late afternoon and I’m in mum mode, having spent the last hour or so answering questions, dealing with the kids’ demands, mediating arguments, cajoling children to do their homework and chores, working out something healthy to cook for dinner because I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer again this morning, I can feel weary and overwhelmed. Mix that with my (recovering) Perfectionist Mum persona, which believes that I should be able to deal with all this with no stress, then my Ego voice gets pretty loud. It tells me that I should have been more organised, better prepared, more resourceful. It tells me it’s all going wrong and that I’m being a rubbish mum again, and that I should get my act together and stop damaging my children by not doing it right.
Notice the words that the Ego loves to use: bigger, better, more; always, again, never; should, ought, have to, must. It thinks in black and white, all or nothing, judgemental, pervasive statements. These statements are very bad for our mental health if we keep believing them, which most of us do. Your job now is to learn how to notice them without attaching to and believing them. It sounds simple, and essentially it is, but to change our brains’ automatic neural pathways we need to practice and practice and practice this.
How does your Ego voice communicate to you? What words and phrases does it love? Whose voice is it? How does it make you feel?
Sometimes my Ego voice comes to me in words, like I am talking to myself: ‘You are so useless, why are you tired all the time?’ Other times it’s more of a feeling, a sinking in the stomach, a familiar wash of disappointment, anger or shame that needs no words to convey it’s judgement on my worth in the world. In both instances it is difficult to disentangle myself from this powerful Ego voice. When it speaks to me in my voice, it sounds like me, it is how I’ve been speaking to myself for years, it uses my tone, my language and my goals and dreams as a stick to beat me with. So I believe it. I am totally and utterly hooked and attached to what is being said in my head. I am converted, a faithful follower of my scared and frightened Ego. At other times, when the wash of emotion, pain and shame creeps through my body, my Ego is so in control it doesn’t even need to speak. As Brene Brown says… ‘When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun.’
In these situations nowadays I am quicker to notice what’s going on, because it’s been something I’ve practiced for the last 8 years. I still get carried away by my emotions, my shame and my feelings of inadequacy and failure; I can have my own tantrum, or run away to my own cave (my bed), and don’t realise what has happened until I’ve calmed down. That is how powerful our Ego voice and the emotions it triggers are. But other times – and the frequency of this is increasing, especially in the last year – I notice what is going on before I do or say something mean to myself or my family.
An important point to remember is that your Ego voice does have your best interests at heart but is out of date and misguided as to what those best interests are. In fact it could be said that it has your survival interests at heart but not your best emotional and spiritual interests. Remember, evolutionarily, survival is all about living long enough to procreate, not to find happiness.
There are many ways to reduce the power that your Ego voice has over you; mostly they have to do with noticing, employing compassion and practicing a different response.
To get intimately acquainted with your Ego voice, you need to discover your Ego’s triggers, knowing what your Ego is scared of, what it thinks is a stress or a threat, and what your normal responses are.
For example, my Ego Voice is very concerned about being in control. Not in the typical sense of having control over everything around me; I don’t need to be in charge, telling people what to do, imposing my agenda. It is not worried about my status, or my social power. It is only worried about my ability to cope emotionally in a certain situation, and to help that work my Ego thinks that if I can control certain things then I’ll be much more able to cope with the situation. That sounds complicated I know, because we all have our very own nuanced triggers and coping strategies, and when you know what yours are, you’ll be able to start dealing with them better.
My Ego voice also worries about everything being just right. It is concerned about this because it hates to be judged negatively and it mistakenly thinks that it is possible to control what other people think of me. Which it isn’t. As the famous saying goes: “What other people think of you is none of your business.’ A good philosophy for quietening your Ego voice I think.
The truth is, we can’t control what goes on inside other people’s heads because they are influenced by all the unique experiences of their own lives. You might be worrying about being judged negatively for having a good income, a nice house and a big car and so tend to play down your financial situation. This is useless because how do you know what the beliefs of the people you come in contact are? Some of them will have grown up believing that money is the key to happiness and will be impressed by your seemingly ‘perfect’ life. Others may believe that money is the root of all evil and may judge you automatically harshly. Or they may not give a flying fig how much money you have but judge you on how in thin and fashionable and ‘cool’ you are, or how compassionately you behave and treat others, or how many hours you give to the school PTA. There are so many variables that it is pointless worrying about them – because in the end you are only harming yourself.
What you are doing is trying to fit in, and reduce the risk of rejection. You are trying to squeeze yourself into a box that will ensure EVERYONE will like you (or at least not judge you harshly). So,instead, you become completely bland and squash the very character traits and uniqueness that makes you awesome and powerful and most importantly, fully expressed and therefore able to be happy.
CHANGE YOUR HABIT
So, grab a journal and spend a week getting to know your Ego voice. Give it a name first. Do you call it your Inner Critic? Gremlin? Monkey Mind? Chimp? Negative Voice? Mrs X from primary school? Ego? Scared Voice? Find something that resonates with you.
Next notice and record the following things, in any order, and not necessarily all at the same time:
- What things does it say?
- Which phrases or insults are its favourite?
- What tone of voice does it use?
- When does it appear?
- What triggers it?
- What makes it get really loud?
- What happens in your body when it is loud?
- How does it make you act?
- What impact does it have on you?
- What impact does it have on those around you?
- How does it make you feel?
- What is listening to it costing you?
- How do you feel when it is loud?
- How do you feel after it has had a tantrum?
- How helpful is it?
- What do you wish it would say instead?
- What could it say that would be more helpful?
- What would you say to a friend if her Ego voice was saying this to her?
Good luck, and remember, this takes patience and time, but, believe me, the rewards of more confidence, better relationships and a happier day-to-day life are well worth the effort.
If you would like learn more about calming your inner critic and nurturing your inner calm and confidence check out my Self-Doubt Buster online course.