Why Your Inner Critic is DamaginG Your Relationships
As we slide into our 40s, we’ve been around the block a few times with relationships. We’ve experienced successful relationships and had a few that crashed and burned.
For the relationships we’ve been tending for years, the newness has long worn off, and it can feel challenging to keep it going.
We feel a little stuck, and sometimes we don’t know if we should try to rekindle the flame, or throw in the towel and start over.
Either option comes with its own set of fears and questions. We don’t want to make the wrong choice, and either walk away from a good thing or stay in a dead-end relationship.
Whether we’re navigating a relationship that’s become mundane, exploring the idea of ending things, or dipping our toes into the water of dating again (after ending the relationship, of course!), there’s one powerful thing that may be preventing you from taking the steps you need, or want to make: our Inner Critics.
The challenge of understanding and hearing our Inner Critics is that we confuse their voice for our voice because they’re so interwoven into our internal communication system.
We hear their messages and take them at face value. We believe what they want us to think. In reality, these little voices are part of us, but they’re not us.
Our Inner Critics are here to protect us and keep us super safe, and they are amazingly effective with their mission.
Another way to think of Inner Critics is that it’s a big part of our Defense mechanism. When we go on defense, by default, we’re trying to protect ourselves, and usually, that’s our Inner Critic(s) at work.
Our Inner Critics impact our ability to communicate our needs effectively and to resolve disputes - so by following the lead of our Inner Critic(s), we fail to set proper boundaries, or create an environment that’s aligned with what makes us thrive within a relationship.
How Inner Critics Mess with our Relationships
Here’s the thing about that Inner Critic voice: it’s not just the voice, but it’s also the energy behind how we pick ourselves apart and see ourselves as “not good enough” for our partner or, that we don’t deserve the relationship.
It may also try to convince us that we’re not worthy of love, or that by expressing our needs to our partner, they won’t love us anymore.
It’s also the force behind our tendency to micro-manage and control our partner or families (because what will happen if we relinquish that control??).
Our Inner Critics are the venom behind our attacks on our partner when we’re most frustrated, paranoid, or upset.
But, if we love our partner and want to share our lives with them, why does our Inner Critic put up so many roadblocks that attempt to derail our relationship success?
It’s because our Inner Critics are terrified we’ll be hurt.
Since our Inner Critics aim to keep us safe and secure, they see our relationships as prime targets for, eventually, causing us pain. So it keeps a close eye on things and any hint of a crack, or something that can be misinterpreted, will send up a flare and rally the Inner Critic troops.
When we act based on these fear-based messages, we typically close off, back away, lash out, etc. which creates distance in the relationship. Our inner protectors will do anything to deflect and guard us against pain or disappointment.
Furthermore, our Inner Critic(s) acts as a buffer between us and our genuine feelings. It doesn’t want us to feel those because we may take action that puts us in further “danger.”
They try to run the show by placing a filter through which we perceive our experiences. If it’s feeling particularly threatened, we’ll view interactions with our partner through this lens and everything they do, or say, will likely be misinterpreted.
The problem with this barrier put firmly in place by our Inner Critic is that it not only prevents us from accessing our true feelings and intuition; it prevents our partner from accessing our true essence.
Common things our Inner Critic tells us that impact our relationships
When it comes to our Inner Critic(s) dialogue, they hit us on all fronts, so it can be difficult to pick out the messages that are specifically aimed at keeping us too safe in our relationships.
But, these are some common ones that might come up when our Inner Critic(s) are trying to rein us in and prevent our hearts from being broken:
“You’re not good enough for him/her”: This could come in the form of feeling too fat/skinny, too old/young, too smart/dumb, too mean/friendly, etc.
“You’ll never find anyone else” (or, “You’ll always be alone”): This one loves to pop up when you’re considering leaving a relationship that’s no longer working.
“He/she will no longer love/like me if I do XYZ” (or don’t do XYZ): This is the Inner Critic that wants you to feel you’re not worthy of love, so it’ll keep your true essence hidden from you and your partner and prevent you from connecting on a deeper level (i.e., more vulnerable level).
“He/she was flirting with that person”: Maybe they were, but maybe that’s your Inner Critic trying to keep you in check that your partner might want someone other than you, which again prevents you from fully giving yourself to this person.
“I can’t believe I just said that! What an idiot!”: This is probably more likely in the early stages of dating, but it may pop up if you’re exploring a new idea or topic that feels particularly meaningful for you, to your partner. You value their opinion of you, so to put your neck out there may open it up for them to laugh at you, dismiss you, not support you, etc.
How to identify and “fix” your Inner Critic
Since the Inner Critic is trying to protect us and is doing so from a place of love, they’re relentless in their efforts to get our attention.
If we try to ignore them, they only get louder! So, the goal isn’t to eradicate or ignore them (neither is possible!), but to hear them, acknowledge them, and work with them.
Here are three tips for managing your Inner Critic to put yourself back in the driver’s seat of your relationships:
#1 | Recognize the Inner Critic
To understand the fear underlying their message and to give them the attention they crave, you have to pay attention to the words they’re telling you. If the message doesn’t feel right, or you know it not to be true, then you’ve identified the Critic, so pause and call them out: “Hey, nervous Nelly - I see you, and I hear you.”
#2 | Personify the Inner Critic
Your Inner Critic(s) is part of you, but it’s not YOU. You don’t have to do everything it tells you to do! You know what’s better for you and what you’re capable of achieving. To help separate yourself from this Inner Critic energy, give it a name, imagine what it looks like, determine what it’s personality would be. The more you can turn that Inner Critic into a “person,” the more you can see it as something detached from you. You can then call it out when it’s too loud, reason with it, and overrule its mission.
#3 | Keep an Inner Critic journal
The messages of your Inner Critic(s) are likely so woven into your thoughts; you don’t even realize all of the messages or variety of ways they keep you in line. What can be extremely helpful is to jot down all the words your Inner Critic tells you on a daily basis. After a week or so, evaluate what they tell you and look for trends and patterns. Knowledge is power and the more insight you have in how your Inner Critics behave, the more control you’ll have over them.
By learning your Inner Critics and their unique message, you’ll uncover your underlying fears, which allows you to release those fears and connect with your partner based from your true self.
You’ll also feel calmer and less paranoid about things going wrong. When things truly are off-kilter, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it because you’ll be accessing your real emotions and feelings.
Feeling vulnerable is like fire to the fuel of our Inner Critics. Being vulnerable makes them nervous because it increases the risk of getting hurt, so they tend to be more on guard. As our relationships with others deepen and become closer, our vulnerability increases which cause our Inner Critics to become more active.
But, by recognizing this is at play and working to re-establish yourself as the leader in your life, you open yourself to a new path to deeper communication, more authenticate feelings, and less fear and stress around your relationship.
Your Inner Critics will always be there, but they don’t get to call the shots!