If you are anything like me, you have a voice inside your head that tells you, “You can’t do it!” over and over again. That voice is your inner critic. This inner critic is not unique to people with bipolar disorder, but the disorder can certainly amplify that voice.
But there are ways that you can quiet your inner critic. You will not be able to get rid of it completely, but you can make it so that voice is not so loud and does not affect you the same way it does now.
Here are 7 steps you can use in order to quiet your inner critic and even put it to good use.
Acknowledge what your inner critic is saying. In order to quiet your inner critic, the first step is to lean in and listen to your inner critic. What is it saying? Write down everything it is telling you at the moment. This first step is crucial. If you try to suppress what your inner critic is saying before going through the rest of the steps, it will backfire. Your inner critic will come back even stronger if you do not acknowledge that it exists.
Realize that your inner critic is trying to protect you. Your inner critic is not trying to bully you. On the contrary, it is trying to protect you from harm and disappointment. If your inner critic is telling you that you can’t do something that you put your mind to, it is trying to keep you from trying to take on a new challenge and failing.
In reality, failure is on the path to success. Failure is necessary in order to learn lessons and move forward. But your inner critic does not know that. Your inner critic is in survival mode. It does not know the difference between a perceived threat and real danger. Your inner critic would tell you the same things if you were trying to walk on a thin tightrope 30 feet from the ground when you have never had training and there were no safety nets.
Give your inner critic a name. By giving your inner critic a name, you give it life. You give it purpose. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you do not give your inner critic a name, then you may refer to it as “The problem with no name.” If the problem has no name, then you cannot even begin to fix it.
It is best if you give your inner critic a name that is an actual person’s name, and name the overall job it is trying to do. For example, my inner critic’s name is Do-It-All Deanna. She really does want me to do everything. Do-It-All Deanna tries to keep all of her balls in the air, but she doesn’t know how to juggle. Inevitably, I drop everything I am “supposed” to do, according to Do-It-All Deanna, and I end up utterly disappointed. In turn, Do-It-All Deanna is even more critical of me.
After you name your inner critic, determine the job it is trying to do for you. This is important in order to accomplish the next steps.
Brainstorm positive thoughts you can put in your head instead. Once you have figured out what your inner critic is saying, given it a name, and realized what job it is trying to do for you, it is now time to replace your inner critic’s thoughts with more positive, productive thoughts and affirmations.
For example, I replaced Do-It-All Deanna’s thoughts that I had to do everything with thoughts such as “It’s OK to take breaks,” and “I can get things done slowly.” Those thoughts have really dampened my urge to accomplish all 50-ish things on my to-do list. It is OK to carry to-do list items over to the next day.
Give the collection of positive thoughts a name. You gave your inner critic a name. It is only fair that you give your inner cheerleader a name, too. Similar to giving your inner critic a name, your inner cheerleader needs to be properly represented.
For example, my inner cheerleader’s name is Take-A-Break Tanya. She is the personification of my thoughts that I get to take breaks. Take-A-Break Tanya encourages me to take a break when I feel overwhelmed.
Give your inner critic a new job. You will always have your inner critic’s voice inside your head to some degree. The thoughts may be few and far between even during the best times of your life. You need to give that inner critic a new job so it feels useful and not ignored.
For example, I have given Do-It-All Deanna the new job of making sure I finish the important tasks. She usually does not tell me to do it all these days. If she does try to get me to do everything, then I have Take-A-Break Tanya as a counterbalance to Do-It-All Deanna. Both Do-It-All Deanna and Take-A-Break Tanya are aligned to serve my best interests now.
Keep practicing those positive thoughts. The more you practice positive thoughts, the quieter your inner critic gets. Write those positive thoughts down on sticky notes and stick them to the bathroom mirror (or some other place you go frequently) if you need to. Keep saying them until they sink in.
By the end of this exercise, you will have gone through a wonderful, and perhaps overwhelming (but in a positive way), transformation — from being plagued by a bunch of negative thoughts to being able to counter them with a lot of positive thoughts. It takes work, and the transformation will not happen overnight, but if you keep practicing, then you will see results.
These steps are even more important to do when you feel depressed. Practice them when you feel depressed, even though it may be more difficult. You don’t have to practice perfectly for this to work. You just need to make the practice consistent. If you fail to change your thoughts right away, that is OK. Failure is part of the process.