Visualize your Horrible Inner Critic – Part 1
In Say Hello to Your Horrible Inner Critic I introduced the idea of personifying your negative thoughts to help deal with them more effectively. As a first step we named it. Now we follow our mind’s-eye to get an amusing and vivid picture of our Horrible Inner Critic. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
We’re doing this because it can be much easier to boss our negative thinking if we:
- think of it as coming from a different part of us, something separate from our more positive and powerful self (and yes we do all have this positive self within us)
- see it as something less scary and a lot more feeble than we might have assumed
So hopefully you have named your Horrible Inner Critic, but if you haven’t don’t stress over it, just call it HIC for now. The next step is to have a ‘picture’ of our Horrible Inner Critic to go with the name. When I say ‘picture’ I really mean something more, because to be really vivid we can include sounds, smells and even the mood of your Horrible Inner Critic, plus maybe some of it’s likes and dislikes. Believe me, we can have a lot of fun with those last two – and for many of us, these can be the most powerful details of all.
When I’m working with coaching clients I’ll often guide them through the visualization process, taking care not to lead them towards any particular visualization. After all, I want them to find their own individual Horrible Inner Critic, not some off-the-shelf version that won’t be as personal or as useful. I’ll encourage them not to actively imagine their HIC, but rather to allow their inner-eye to have a look around and simply see what’s there.
Because I don’t know each reader’s situation I’ve chosen not to offer a simple set of guiding questions for you to do the same. Instead I’ll describe the process and the outcomes I’ve experienced with my clients. If you want to follow along it must be at your own risk, and please don’t try this if you may have depression, chronic anxiety or any mental disorder.
Okay then, here’s how it goes. Remember, don’t try to imagine, just follow your intuition and feelings and allow your ‘inner eye’ to show you what’s there.
Visualization of the Horrible Inner Critic
- The Voice
Question to clients – How does your negative thoughts voice differ from your own?
This is an important question – not just as first step in the visualisation, but also in raising awareness and consolidating the notion of difference between you and your Horrible Inner Critic.
Answers – Differences can be subtle or more marked. A few people can’t detect a difference, and that’s okay. Others with a more auditory imagination recognise clear characteristics of their HIC voice.
You – What does your own HIC voice sound like? How is it different from your more positive voice?
- The Source
Question to clients – Where do you ‘sense’ your Horrible Inner Critic Voice to be coming from? Where is its source? We’re after a physical place here.
This may be somewhere in your body, or less frequently outside, on a shoulder for instance, or by your ear. Usually though, people feel the source of their negative voice to be coming from somewhere in their head (if so I’ll ask them to say where in their head), or in the chest or stomach. So far no-one has told me their HIC voice lives in a leg, but I guess there’s a first time for everything!
You – where’s the source of your HIC voice?
Okay, so now we have a ‘geographical’ source for the HIC voice, it’s time to go and take a look around.
- Let’s Go There
Here I ask my clients to close their eyes and allow their mind’s-eye to drift to wherever they sense the source of their inner critic voice to be.
When they get there, it’s usually (but definitely not always) gloomy, cool and damp. This might be quite different for people living in a different climate to the UK. There may be a cave or some kind of broken-down cabin, but again, it could be anything.
At this point, many people can see their Horrible Inner Critic, while for others it’s too gloomy to see much of anything.
You – let your mind’s eye float to wherever you feel your Inner Critic voice is coming from. Take a moment to register the surroundings. Maybe you can see your HIC, maybe not. If not, don’t worry – a solution is at hand.
When it’s too murky to see, I ask the person (in their mind’s eye) to look down and see the super-powerful torch that’s on the floor by their side. They pick it up and shine it around. Usually their HIC will then be there for them to see.
- Describing Your Horrible Inner Critic
Now I’ll ask what my client is seeing. What is their newly discovered Horrible Inner Critic like? There’s often a tone of incredulity at this point – at the ridiculousness of the image they’ve discovered. We’re having fun now. It’s hard not to laugh, so we’ll share a laugh at what our imagination has conjured up – but only if it’s appropriate and being led by the client.
A Kaleidoscope of Inner Critics
So, what are people’s Horrible Inner Critics like? Well… the first thing to say is that there is no normal – apart from its size, which is almost always quite small or smallish, and its demeanour which tends to be unthreatening and rather unhappy at being discovered.
Here’s what you might find, based on my experiences with clients:
- Grumpy old men or women
- Small and modified versions of real people, including
- parents, grandparents and other relatives
- versions of negative or disliked friends or colleagues
- versions of famous and infamous people – either current or historical
- All sorts of fictional characters from books, films and stories. Gollums and Gremlins often crop up here. Both can have an element of menace, so it’s important to follow the steps in Part 2 of this post where we complete the visualization with some steps that emphasise our control over them.
- Versions of ourself – unflattering, sometimes scared, sometimes distinctly bolshie, sometimes a child (some people might think of this as their inner child, and that’s fine if it feels right. But not all inner-children have a negative impact on us. For instance, my own sense of inner-child is a source of much joy).
- Occasionally, very abstract HICs – blobs, boxes, clouds, etc.
Whatever turns up, we’re keeping things light Remember that we’re simply observing. We’re not trying to actively construct images. Instead we are acting as witness to what turns up (which I guess, is part of the fun). We are seeing what we find, checking out the details – the clothing (or lack), facial features and mood, shoes, hair, sounds and smells.
You – what image is your mind’s eye bringing to you? Take in the details. Perhaps draw a picture or find a web image. Take in the details and remember, keep it light.
After naming our Horrible Inner Critic, we can continue the personification process by visualizing it – starting by:
- Noticing the differences between our negative voice and our normal one
- Detecting where in our body this voice comes from, and letting our mind’s eye take us there
- Seeing and describing our Horrible Inner Critic
That’s all for now. Next up we can have a bit of fun with our HIC and significantly weaken the power of its negativity.
As ever, your comments are most welcome.
Very thought provoking and another brilliant post. My inner critic was more or less sorted visually, but, now it has a voice I recognize, Ricky Gevais!!!!! (can’t stand the man)! as for the smell a little on the musty wee side. So little shit or to give him is full name Colin the little shit.
Consciously and patiently, I set out to understand why this self-critical person had become such a huge part of me. I learned how to recognize and counter the habitual negative messages and destructive behavior patterns. I learned how to beat my inner critic, for the most part.
Thanks so much for your comment. It’s important for others to hear that you can successfully counter your negative thoughts. I know there are a variety of successful approaches – could you share what worked for you?