Freedom from the inner critic

Freedom from the inner critic

“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

There is so much information these days on how to manage our inner dialogue. Through our favourite search engine, there are a multiple different strategies. Often our inner dialogue, especially if it is negative, can get in the way when we are performing, public speaking, or even speaking to someone new in a personal setting.

I have done a great deal of work with clients over the last year, especially for performers in the area of the inner critic. I have to observe it in myself as well, otherwise the critic can suddenly explode and can lead to overwhelm and confusion. That internal dialogue of negativity stops us from being open, expressive and at ease with ourselves and our body. It is sometimes the inner critic that usually tends to trigger our adrenaline system. I draw on principles of mindfulness, as well as performance psychology to arrive at the easiest and most successful outcome for those that I see.

When we criticise ourselves, we respond with feeling under attack and our muscles tense. It creates a defence by tightening and tensing muscles. For many I work with, this judgement sits in the mouth and throat area and tightens the jaw, tongue, lips, neck and throat. So when we are looking for an open throat and jaw free from tension to obtain a free voice, it proves to get in the way (to say the least).

“Why do lock yourself up in these chains? No one can change your life except for you” Wilson Philips

Indeed why do we have such a harsh critic? What stops us from being more gentle with ourselves, for forgiving ourselves? Some of the things we might say to ourselves are mean, or nasty, or untrue, or based on something that happened when we were much younger. I often have clients who say that it was their year 3 teacher that told them they could not sing, and they haven’t questioned it since!The first step is to be aware of when and why we do it, without criticising ourselves (using many of the mindfulness techniques).Is there a way of getting out of our own way and altering the stress-tension pattern. 

Below is one of the most interesting ways to view “stress”that I have seen. “Stress”is a term oft used and over-used: many of us glorify being “busy”. Are we more obsessed  with “outcomes” in our modern world? I read recently that perhaps all we need is one life changing idea and it would alter our life forever. I doubt it would come in if we were frantic and focusing on our lack of time.

 Stress-tension-stress”  King

We are not generally in the habit of releasing, nor relaxing as a general rule in Western society. The art of relaxing and releasing is often lost in our busy world and certainly stating to someone that we have had a great time dreaming and daydreaming lately may be met with considerable disdain. Or a judgement of being lazy….or in some circles extremely lucky. Distractions  and addictions are more common, rather than “releases” and focusing inward and reflecting. We may find that during the week, or during a rehearsal period, we are either at maximum speed or passed out on the couch.  Have we lost the balance?

So, as we focus on the doing in daily life, without breaking the tension, the stress cycle continues to develop and the inner critic rejoices that we haven’t stopped, so that we may be successful and productive. I often wonder about some of the young corporate individuals who come to see me, as they often are unable to see that their bodies have any level of “stress”. They no longer even recognise that they need to release, and they look at me as if i am quite mad to suggest that they need to actively release, focus on themselves, their breath, become grounded and flow again. How can this co-exist in their life? Especially if they are working 16 hour days, as well as weekends. What makes us then stop? 

For a lot of us, if it remains unchecked,  stress and tension continue to build. For many of my clients it is their voice, jaw or breathing that is affected. For some, I feel that their voice is giving them a warning to address their vocal symptoms. And sometimes, we need to know that we inhabit a space internally where it is safe to let go. For many perfomers and those that are more sensitive, being in a supported space with someone else can allow the release to occur. Sometimes it can feel too big to do on our own, especially if the critic is playing a heavy hand.

Here is a great video on the inner critic as suggested by Joyce di Donato, famous classical operatic soprano. She speaks of how everyone who performs has to silence that voice in our head that gets in our way. And it is great for any non-perfomers out there too. 

We have the capacity to tone our nervous system and our thoughts. We do not always have to be busy or stressed. We can learn to re-engage our calm nervous system (Parasymapthetic) We need to target our thoughts and our body and listen to them intently and with compassion. 

So some thoughts on finding more internal space:

How can we luxuriate more? How can we structure less?  How can we thank our internal critic for all it gives us, and then allow it to take a back seat and listen more to our inner voice? How can we give ourselves full permission to discover the walls that confine and bind us? For in that must led to increased freedom and ease.

When we are free mentally and emotionally and physically, then we can resonate vocally. Find flow again, find more freedom, in our voice and in our life…. xx

“The human voice is the organ of the soul” 
Henry Longfellow