Inquiry and the inner critic

I got a wonderful question from an audience member at a book reading last year.

Why, she asks, if we’re encouraged to inquire into everything that arises in our experience, do we tend to dismiss those moments when we’re being attacked by our inner critic? 

Surely, she points out, this is just as much a part of our experience, and therefore worth knowing more about?

Her question goes to the heart of our posture in relation to the inner critic. How do we stay in touch with our inquiry, while we’re being buffeted by these attacks?

Defending your awareness

Engaging with this self-criticism – or accommodating it, even subtly – is a surefire way to shut down your awareness, diminish your friendly curiosity and halt your inquiry process.

That’s why inquiry teachers tend to steer us away from the content of these attacks. Especially at the beginning, we need to recognise the fact that there is an attack, and deal with that first rather than dealing with what we are being attacked about. Once we have some space from the attack, we can then deal with the content.

The trick is to see and acknowledge the attack without buying into it. This takes some time to master, and with practice, you’ll find that you can continue to inquire, maintain your awareness, and stay in touch.

Here are some questions to ask, that might help you when you find yourself in murky waters:

  • What does this feel like?
  • How is this attack affecting me?
  • What’s the energy of it like?
  • What does it do to me?
  • Where am I?
  • Who am I, as I’m on the receiving end of this criticism?

Here’s my full answer, from the online event:

Clip from the Diving Moves book reading event, 2021

Further reading

I offer a more detailed overview of the inner critic in Chapter 9 of my book, Diving in the Inner Ocean.

And if you’re looking for further support, then I’d strongly recommend reading Soul without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within, by Byron Brown. This is a vital resource for dealing with your inner critic, with practical exercises to expose and then disengage from your superego.