The most insidious thing your inner critic does is block you from expressing yourself. This manifests in all sorts of self-silencing patterns: Holding yourself back from putting your best ideas into the world, eroding your own ability to enjoy free-and-clear relationships, and trapping your own authentic truth within.
Regardless of how it looks, self-repression feels bad. It’s like the spiritual version of holding in a sneeze—scrambling your brain, mind, and soul, divorcing yourself, and prioritizing external validation instead.
4 Ways to Keep Your Struggle Switch Turned Off
Here are four strategies, employing neurobiology, psychology, and spiritual law, that you can use to stop silencing yourself and start putting your true, sacred self more fully out there.
1. Unpack the Payoffs—and the Costs—of Your Self-Silencing
Against a backdrop of self-compassion, get real with yourself about what you get out of keeping silent and small. For most people, keeping quiet turns down the volume on the mental shark music that begins to play when they even think about saying something controversial, asking for a raise, or sharing their real sexual desires with their mate.
The shark music plays because your inner critic wants to protect you from feeling exposed and vulnerable to outside criticism or ridicule.
But here’s the thing: Speaking your best ideas almost never actually poses the existential threat you think it will. And if you let your inner critic overrule your inner guide, your most golden, vital intuitions and ideas are lost. This creates a relational template with your own ideas and dreams that makes incompletion, self-sabotage, and disappointment feel more normal than being fruitful and creatively fulfilled.
[Read: “16 Affirmations for Nurturing Creativity.”]
Conducting a frank inventory of what it gets and costs you to shush yourself will shine a light on this shadow and start to dissolve it, even before you make any other changes or build any other skills.
2. Give Your Inner Censor Time off Every Day
If you’ve been silencing yourself for a lifetime, unfettered free-writing is a good step toward rectifying that. It can be challenging at first, but once you get going it soon feels like a solid investment in clearing—and hearing—your own thoughts. Start by brain-dumping any past grudges or grievances you’re still ruminating on, then anything you’re worried or excited about.
[Read: “21 Quotes for Letting Go of the Past.”]
Journaling also presents a daily opportunity to identify problems and subjects in your life that need you to explore and plot out. The idea here is not to script your talking points and then file the edges off or make them palatable before you bring them up in real life. It’s to give you some time and space to organize your thoughts and practice or visualize your self-expression moment, which gives you a better shot of speaking your truth over the shark music.
3. Surf the Urge to Shush Yourself
The way we block self-expression usually occurs in a form we might liken to a wave:
- An inspired idea or inner nudge arises, and you get the thought to speak up about it.
- Your struggle switch flips on; cue the shark music.
- You feel like you might vomit, pass out, or, even worse, like you might die.
- After these paralyzing moments of inner conflict, you decide not to say anything.
- Fear diminishes, and you feel safe again. You’ll live. You also feel frustrated, pent-up, and disappointed in yourself.
You may have experienced this countless times. The volume of the shark music goes up, then dies down once you give in to the urge to self-silence. But in the moment of rising fear and terror, it’s hard to remember that all unwanted emotions rise and fall like a wave…whether you give in to the urge to retreat or not.
Surfing the urge is a practice from behavioral therapy that uses mindfulness and imaginary practice to increase your ability to regulate and tolerate the discomfort of clear, bold, communication.
To use this tool, anticipate the rise and fall of the urge to shut yourself down, and decide in advance that when it arises, you will mindfully surf that wave instead. You might want to practice an imaginary scenario where you have a hard conversation or pitch your big idea, feel the shark music come on, breathe deeply and stay with the feeling, knowing it will get worse before it gets better and surfing the urge to hide your light until the fear subsides—even as you continue to speak up and share your soul.
That’s how you begin to break the pull of your self-silencing pattern.
4. Make It a Game—and Revel When You Win
I once had a client who was working with me and another coach at the same time on her writing blocks, dating blocks, and self-silencing around her parents. Both of us gave her the same assignment—to play an “asking” game—albeit with very different rationales.
He had her ask 100 strangers for something off the wall to get her used to being rejected and thicken her skin.
I had her commit to speaking up, saying what she meant, and especially asking for what she wanted, big or small, from people in her life and strangers alike. I wanted her to see just how often people would grant her requests and how infrequently the ask would trigger any unwanted consequence.
Funny enough, the idea of asking for what she wanted and getting it was just as dreadful to her as the prospect of getting turned down over and over. But she agreed to play both these games, in part because the playfulness of the exercise reduced fraught feelings.
In the end, both coaches turned out to be right. His “ask a stranger” exercise built a little boldness and resilience to rejection. And my “always ask” challenge built her resources, her relationships, her trust in the universe, and, most importantly, her self-respect.
If you decide to play either or both of these games in your own life, also commit to “taking in the good” of your asks and your wins for at least a few mindful minutes every night, even if some days the only win is that you did not, in fact, die or vomit.
Struggle Switch Off/Joyful Expression On
Reveling in the joys of self-expression starts an inner feedback loop that keeps your struggle switch off and is vastly more rewarding than your inner critic wants you to believe it can be.
Still prone to the inner diss? Check out more ways to silence harsh self-talk.