Updated: May 28, 2020
Our inner critic can be oh-so-convincing sometimes, especially when she works under the umbrella of self-improvement. I don’t know about yours, but mine is quite judgmental. She’s so critical that she even judges her judging. For example, when I catch her being unkind, she chastises the unkindness. It would be quite comical, if not for her incessant disruption of “shoulds.” She sounds like this:
“I should stretch more”…”I should stay in my own business”…”I should go deeper in my spiritual work”…”I should be more mindful”…”I should really be doing breathwork now instead of scrolling through social media”…”I should be reading one of those books stacked on the shelf”…”I should have more clients”…”I shouldn’t eat cheese, it makes me break out”…”I should wear something other than yoga clothes today”…”I should dust, it’s piling up”…”I should get out of my mind and into my body”…”I shouldn’t have had wine last night because it has made me less clear today”…”I should really look into adding to my knowledge and skillset”…”I should organize my office better”…”I should have meditated this morning and I’d be in a better mood”…”I should write that memoir I keep putting off”…”I should check on my friends to make sure they’re ok”…”I should donate to that cause my friend posted asking for donations”…"I should write a blog post"..."I should promote my business more"...and on and on she prattles...
All the things she tells me I should be doing, or ways I should be being, are all tied to the belief that I need to continually improve myself, my business and my environment. That if only I took her sage advice, somehow I’d reach perfection or nirvana.
While this may seem like a noble pursuit, it is flawed. The goal line perpetually moves forward. The constant pursuit of perfection is unattainable, and it takes away from our ability to experience and appreciate right now.
As one of my master teacher’s, Terry DeMeo, recently wrote in an eloquent post on social about women who are always working on themselves: “What if the real issue is your self-attack? You're believing what you're telling yourself--that something is wrong with you that needs work. What if you don't need more confidence or self-compassion or productivity? What if the key to feeling good about yourself is accepting yourself right now, this minute, just exactly as you are?”
I’ve tried brushing my inner critic aside, putting her in the backseat, bargaining with her, and even bribing her and yet none of that has been effective. Why? Because that’s still telling her she’s not good enough and should be doing something different than she is. The answer, as it is for all things, is deep and complete acceptance and love.
Could it really be that simple?
Why yes, it can.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping uses this concept at its foundation. While tapping pressure points along the hands, face, neck, and chest, the tapper repeats: “Even though _______, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” The element we insert depends on whether we’re feeling an emotion or physical pain.
For example, if I have a migraine, I would say, “Even though I have this migraine, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” Or if I’m frustrated, I would say, “Even though I’m frustrated right now, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
A fellow coach and friend of mine, Deanne, introduced me to the work of Matt Kahn. (If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s jam-packed full of juicy, loving acceptance.) He says in his “Total Integration” audio series Acceptance: Bringing You Back to Center:
“With acceptance, we stop using spirituality to judge ourselves. In acceptance, there is no judgment. ‘I accept this is how I feel.’ We’re using acceptance to admit the honesty and authenticity of our experience, and placing nothing else upon it. We consciously affirm, ‘here’s my experience.’ Instead of psychoanalyzing ourselves and asking, ‘Why do I seem to be the most imperfect spiritual being in this moment?’ As if you’re supposed to aspire to be one way all the time, which we know that’s not the way life is. Life is about experiencing the full spectrum of emotional range, not just trying to be one way all the time. And if you try to be one way all the time, it’s going to be a failed mission…until we come into the truth of acceptance.”
Even The Work™ of Byron Katie is all about acceptance. Katie says in her book Loving What Is, “Whenever we believe reality should be different than it is, we suffer.” The entire set of four questions and turnarounds in her tool offers us the opportunity to love and accept ourselves (and everyone else) exactly how we are right now. Complete acceptance. And from that place, we “know to do.” We take action out of love, not out of judgment.
Because radical acceptance is the single highest form of self-love and self-compassion. It starts with allowing ourselves to be exactly as we are in this moment. Acknowledging our behavior and emotions with full honesty and accepting ourselves completely. That’s it. Loving and accepting ourselves as we are. That’s all there is to do in this life. Love and accept each moment as it arises, and whoever we are in those moments.
Even loving that inner critic, that part of ourselves that simply wants us to be loved. That feels the need to protect us from outer criticism by getting ahead of it. Loving that part of us that judges and accepting that she does.
And when I forget to love and accept that part of myself, I can forgive myself and accept that I forgot. It’s ok.
If you feel the same pressure to always be working on you, I invite you to join me in learning to radically accept…over and over again…for as many times as we need to. And hold our beautiful inner critic and say, “I love you and accept you exactly as you are.”