Ned-in-My-Head Part II: Dealing with Your Inner Critic
Recently, I named my inner critic. I chose Ned (short for Ned-in-My-Head, which stands for Negative Edwards; get it?). The idea, which I got online, is this: nicknaming your inner critic gives a little critical distance to first recognize when it is happening, and then make some choices about how to engage that voice.
The more I thought about this, the more hopeful and empowering it became. Imagine! What if you could relate differently to that inner negative voice? What if you could get enough distance to actually dialogue productively with that part of yourself? And what if—through this dialogue—you could bring the gospel to that part of yourself? It would be like missionary work: the good news to a darkened, cut-off part of yourself.
Typically, there’s no dialogue with an inner critic. It’s a one-way monologue. The voice issues a stream of criticism, evaluation, and doubt: You haven’t done enough. You are a bore. Sometimes the voice speaks for the crowd: No one really likes you. Everyone will find you out soon enough. Sometimes the voice uses “I” statements: I am stupid, I will screw this up.
But whatever form, it is seldom a dialogue. The voice seems to have final say about how things are. The inner pronouncement of You’re an idiot carries the same unchallengeable authority as It’s cold today. The inner voice, originating from some corner of your head, issues it’s edicts as cold hard logic. There is no second opinion.
But if you listen carefully, the voice isn’t primarily logical. It isn’t trying to convey a certain truth as much as it is trying to make you feel a certain way. The giveaway is the tone of the inner voice. Usually, it is some form of contempt: shame, blame, ridicule, etc.
And that is where the critical distance comes in. You want to be able to stand back from that inner voice enough to notice the contempt. Ned-in-My-Head’s messages have content, but they also have a tone. While Ned’s actual accusation might have some truth to it, the contemptuous tone doesn’t have love in it. Now this distinction is very important, since being able to hear the distinction gives me a fighting chance with myself, a chance to address the truth (such as it is) of my critic, but without accepting the contempt. I’ll say that again: I have a chance to hear the truth without accepting contempt.
Again, imagine! Is it possible to engage truth without condemnation? Isn’t that supposed to be the effect of the gospel? God loves me, so I can face the truth. This is a chance to actually grow. This is a chance to learn how to speak the truth in love to myself. It is a chance to hear the truth in love from myself. And moreover, a chance to transfer this skill to speak and hear the truth in love from others.
Here’s an example:
I hear Ned say, That was a stupid thing to say to your wife. If I could recognize that this is Ned talking to me, and if I could hear the truth about my words without contempt about my person, then I might be able to experience a clean conviction. I could recognize the harm to her without doubling my sin by harming myself. After all, it won’t help my wife to hear an apology from a self-despising man (that will be more about me). No, she needs an apology from a man who is loved by God and therefore knows what love is and what it is not. That apology will be more about her and both of us will be better off.
Think of it. What if the gospel could get to Ned-in-My-Head? Might it not free me from condemnation and lead me to the truth?
Review: Ned-In-My-Head I and II; Dealing with Your Inner Critic
Step 1: Recognize (learn to notice) the Inner Critic.
Step 2: Recognize (learn to notice) the contempt. Accept the truth/reject the contempt.
These steps take practice and a detached listening ear. But mostly they take faith that when God says He loves you, He means it. And if God loves me, then He wants something better for me than non-constructive criticism. He wants to build me up, not tear me down. He doesn’t want me to give up on myself but to learn value-giving myself.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.