February 17, 2024

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The Inner Critic is here to stay. But it doesn't have to be a source of anxiety and overwhelm. Here are 4 steps for making it your ally.

Do you get into uncomfortable emotional states like feeling anxious or overwhelmed, more often than you'd like to? Maybe you can identify them as a kind of a default state you get into when you're stressed?

For me, a big one is feeling like I don't have enough time to do all the things, which then gets compounded by anxiety, overwhelm, and feeling convinced that I'm totally screwing up with whatever important thing is on my mind.

You're right -- this is not at all a recipe for feeling empowered to take good care of your family and the world around you. But it is a regular reality for many people, so we need to talk about it.

In this post I'll share a recent realization I had about all this, which led to some ideas for what to do about it. I hope you'll find it helpful. 

Not enough time, anxious, overwhelmed, oh my

At the end of January I was feeling like, "Where-ever did January go?!" Now we're half way through February (I'm writing in mid-February, 2024) and I'm still feeling the same way - "What's happened to the first half of February?!"

But it doesn't have to be right after the New Year for me to be feeling this way, and I doubt I'm the only one who experiences this.

It's a feeling that there's not enough time and not enough of me to go around. Then I top that up with anxiety, overwhelm, and a horrible conviction that I'm messing up the really important stuff. (Hello, Mother Guilt).

Where do these feelings come from?

To be honest, I've been living with them for so long that until recently I had never asked that question. (Which is pretty poor for someone who knows that she who asks the questions leads the conversation. Duh.)

Anyhow, in the middle of the night recently it came to me that anxiety and overwhelm don't just arise all by themselves.

A mentor back in my horsemanship days used to refer to "what happens before what happens happens."

So the thing (in bold) that happens, the thing that has our attention, is always related to things that happened before it. And/or things that are happening around it. Only most of us don't notice those. We think that the thing that's happening (good, bad, or otherwise) came out of no-where.

Which means that if we want to stop it or change it, we're missing important pieces of the puzzle.

Finding the source of the problem

In my case, I realized that what happens before I feel anxious, overwhelmed, and like I'm ruining my kids' lives forever, is that the Inner Critic shows up.

Only I hadn't been noticing her. I had skipped right over the Critic's presence without even noticing it, and gone straight to my default emotional states of anxiety and overwhelm.

The Critic can be an ally (more on that below), helping us be discerning and get clear about important aspects of our lives. But for many of us, certainly for me, at some point along the way the Critic has gotten out of hand. And when that happens, its presence becomes very, very dis-empowering.

Enter anxiety and overwhelm.

And so long as the Critic goes undetected, whatever I do to address the emotional state I've gotten into in reaction to it is going to be management at best. It won't get to the source of the problem.

So that was my big realization -- that I don't have to keep managing the anxiety. Instead, I can get to the source of the problem (or at least closer to it) by addressing the Critic's concerns.

(If you're as nerdy as me, you're now asking, "Well, but where does the Critic come from?" Or, "How did it get out of hand?" Those are juicy questions, I agree, but I'm not going there today.)

For now, if any of this is sounding at all familiar and you'd like a useful take-away, try engaging with the Critic (let's face it, running away from it doesn't work) and making a deal with it.

Engaging with the Critic

  1. Identify what the Critic's concerns are. For real. Sit down and have a conversation with your Inner Critic rather than trying to ignore it. Ask it what's on its mind and it will be delighted to tell you. Your job is to write them all down. The list of concerns is probably long, and all of the items on it are probably blown way out of proportion, but there will be a kernel of truth in there somewhere. (Why? Because in it's healthy expression, the Critic's role is to help you think clearly about your life and discern your truth about things.)
  2. Find the kernel of truth in the thing that's at the top of the list of things the Critic is beating you up about.
  3.  Make a deal with the Critic. Your part of the deal is that you'll pay more attention and take action to address that truth. (I suggest starting with only ONE of the critic's complaints, and make it a small, manageable action. Be firm about it. Don't allow the Critic to sneak around and come in the back door with unreasonable demands).
  4. The Critic's part of the deal is that it will simmer down and stop being mean to you. You're listening now. It can stop yelling and berating and going over the top trying to get your attention.

From Inner Critic, to Inner Ally

The Critic is an archetypal energy that's part of the human experience -- it's not going away. But you can be in charge of it, not the other way around. You can learn to make it your ally rather than a nightmare figure that dogs your footsteps and never gives you a moments rest.

And that can lead to your feeling better and being able to take better care of whatever you're here to take care of.

*****

If you made it all the way down here, thanks for reading. Jump on the comments below, and let me know whether this was helpful?

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