One of my clients has a vocal inner-critic.
We explored this in a coaching conversation. And I asked how he’d characterize his relationship with himself.
The words that came to the surface were…guilt, blame, and shame.
Now, this dude is pretty successful at what he does. Works at a great company. Succeeding in his role.
But the experience of creating that success was often poisoned by this toxic inner-relationship. It holds him back from performing at his best. And it keeps him from from enjoying his work to the degree he wants.
To explore how to work with this inner-critic, we played a game called “making a recipe.” (1)
It starts in a counterintuitive place. The first step is to…
Make a Recipe of the Thing You Don’t Want
I invited him to imagine that a friend came up to him and said:
“Dude, I REALLY want to have a shame-y, blame-y, guilt-ridden relationship with myself. Just like the one you have with yourself! What do I need to do to create that experience for myself? What’s the recipe?”
Following that prompt, my client immediately rattled off a concise list of ingredients.
How to Create a Shame-y, Blame-y, Guilt-filled Relationship With Yourself
First, you have to judge yourself through the eyes of others.
You’ll actually be judging yourself. But you have to remain unaware that you’re doing this to yourself. That way you can continue to blame others for feeling how you feel.
Second, you have to be a terrible mind-reader.
It’s like false empathy. You have to think you know EXACTLY what other people are thinking and feeling. But really, you’ll just be projecting your insecurities onto others.
Third, you can’t ever let yourself feel vulnerable. If you don’t let yourself take vulnerable action, you’ll never get hurt.
And finally, don’t have a connection with yourself. Don’t even see it as a relationship that needs tending to. Just ignore yourself most of the time. Essentially, give yourself the silent treatment. Don’t give yourself any care or attention.
If you do those four things, you too can feel a guilt, shame, and self-blame on a regular basis!
Turning it Around
But we don’t create the first recipe to use it. We use it to cultivate awareness.
When we clarify what’s creating the thing we don’t want, we can change it. Piece by piece.
Let’s do that now with the recipe for a hyper-critical inner-relationship.
1: How to Stop Judging Ourselves
When we feel judged, we create that experience for ourselves.
We might think “My boss doesn’t trust me.”
But 99% of the time, we don’t know this judgments to be true. We might think we know. We might really think we know.
But we don’t. Instead, it’s a hunch that we’re choosing to believe. And so we place the judgment on ourself.
So instead of knowing that “My boss doesn’t trust me” we can see that “I don’t trust myself.” (And, “I don’t trust my boss.”)
Turning judgments around can be a bitter pill to swallow. But it’s a powerful move to make. Because it gives you 100% responsibility as the creator your experience.
From that place, you can let go of the self-judgment, and return to a place of peace.
2: How to Stop Projecting Our Insecurities Onto Others
We like to think we know what other people are thinking and feeling. But in reality, we never know exactly what’s going on in other peoples’ lives. (We can’t read minds!)
Instead, we take what we get from them and create a story in our head about what’s going on in their world.
Which oftentimes means taking our worst fears and painting them onto the experiences we have with others.
The antidote to this self-defeating habit is to notice false stories when they arise. And then replace them with a more enriching story.
- When someone gives you a less-than-warm welcome…Are they mad at you? Or might they be having a tough day for reasons unrelated to you?
- When someone doesn’t answer your email on the same day…Are they disappointed with what you sent? Or merely occupied by other things?
- When someone gives you a short reply…Is it a sign you’ve done something wrong? Or might they be feeling overwhelmed, and opted for brevity?
The events of life don’t create our experience. It’s our relationship to these events. That’s the power of perception.
3: How to Stop Hold Ourselves Back From Connection
Vulnerability can feel scary. Many of us have a false narrative that not being vulnerable is the way to stay safe.
But really, the opposite is true. If we never allow ourselves to feel vulnerable, we never create opportunities to connect fully with others.
It’s possible that we can be rejected when we show up fully…But without daring to be vulnerable, we lose by default.
Instead of shying away from vulnerability, we can treat it like The Fear Game. IF I feel some fear about being vulnerable…THEN I have to do it.
Like anything, expressing yourself vulnerably is a skill you can practice.
4: How to Stop Ignoring Yourself
Without giving something adequate attention, it tends to shrivel up and die.
- Not giving attention to your health? You won’t feel energized.
- Not giving attention to your business? You won’t prosper.
- Not giving attention to a relationship? It won’t flourish.
Same is true for our relationship with ourselves.
For some, the idea of creating a good relationship with ourselves seems foreign. “What do you mean a relationship with myself?!”
Which leads us to have blind-spots of self-awareness, where we ignore our needs and disconnect from our intuition.
And over time, these accumulate into a sad, halfhearted inner-relationship.
The Recipe for a Grounded, Accepting, and Loving Inner-Relationship
Taking all of this into account, we can form a new recipe. This one points us in a more enriching direction.
- Take 100% ownership for the experience of feeling judged. Recognize anytime you start judging yourself through the eyes of others. Notice that judgment, and turn it around.
- Notice when you’re trying to be a mind-reader. Reconnect with the reality that you can never actually know what someone else’s inner-experience is.
- Lean into vulnerability as a practice. Know that you can’t live life wholeheartedly without a willingness to be vulnerable. When you notice yourself starting to close up, pause, re-ground, and choose to open instead.
- Prioritize your relationship with yourself first. Without love and acceptance for yourself, you have much less to give to others. Create space to connect with yourself on a regular basis.
What’s the #1 thing you need to start doing to improve your inner-relationship?
And what’s the #1 thing you need to stop doing to improve that relationship?
That’s the practice. Identify what’d be most impactful for you. Then, make it happen.
Let’s do this,
- I first learned about “Making a Recipe” from Jim Dethmer. (Fun fact: Jim co-authored a book called The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which, when I read it at my first job, was my first real experience with inner-work.)
- If you want more on turning around the judgments we project onto others, you’ll enjoy Loving What Is by Byron Katie.