A participant in a session once shared that when her self-critical voice appeared in her mind it had the qualities of a drill sergeant: short, sharp and very loud!
This made me think of my brother who was a drill sergeant in the military: I could picture him barking orders at the new recruits as they disembarked the train, just like a scene from a film.
The participant went on to share that she would never dream of speaking to others in the same voice with which she spoke to herself. There was plenty of nodding in the room from the others present.
We made it our home practice that week to notice this self-critical voice when it arose. Our intention was to replace it with a kinder voice, one we might use to comfort a friend in distress.
The next session, there was much energetic discussion in the room. One woman spoke proudly of how she had felt comforted, in the same way she had been as a child, by her new kinder inner voice. Others spoke of how difficult the practice had been, or how many times they had forgotten because ‘old habits die hard’ as one put it.
This took me back to the stories that my brother used to tell. He said that some recruits didn’t pass basic training the first time, but he trusted that in time they would, with perseverance and above all patience. Those who showed these qualities were being kinder and less judgmental on themselves. They were the ones who passed in the end.
The parallels with my group were clear to see – a little self-kindness can go a long way. It takes time, perseverance and above all patience to replace that inner drill sergeant’s self-critical voice, with a softer, kinder one.
Perhaps allow your inner voice to have the softer, kinder quality; one you might use with a friend in distress. Be patient, persevere for a week or so and see how you feel at the end of it.