A VISUALISATION PRACTICE TO RELATE TO THE INNER CRITIC CREATIVELY
“Imagination is the language of the soul. Pay attention to your imagination and you will discover all you need to be fulfilled.” Albert Einstein
I would like to share with you a few words about our inner critic and how to relate to it creatively through visualisation.
I know from personal experience how toxic the inner voice can be. I spent my years self-loathing and am still recovering from patterns of self-hatred. Even just while I am writing this article, I need to negotiate with the voice inside me saying that this is not going to be good enough.
Throughout my career, most of the people I have worked with had blockages, troubles about speaking for themselves, being more visible and feeling confident because of the loud and negative self-talk that was undermining their sense of value and self-esteem and preventing them from being where they wanted in their life.
As you may know, visualisation is a technique that uses imagination in a focused way to strengthen positive feelings and desired outcomes. It is a tool that also invites us to pay attention to feelings, colours, textures, or smells present in the picture, so it can be as vivid as possible.
As science shows, when visualising an action, we stimulate the same brain regions as when performing that same action; new neural pathways are created. In other words, the brain cannot distinguish between imagination and actual action and this is why visualisation is part of most world-class athletes’ training.
This visualisation exercise is a wonderful way to:
- stimulate the expansive, holistic right hemisphere of your brain and alpha brainwaves (a state in which it becomes easier to reprogram patterns at a subconscious level)
- enter a quiet and meditative space to cultivate a sense of ease, peace, self-care and self-compassion
- integrate all your senses, expand your self-awareness to enhancing creativity and imagination
- regulate the parasympathetic nervous system and release the stress response
- calm the mind and quiet the inner chatter
Let’s now give visualisation a try with this exercise if you wish!
Put yourself in a comfortable position, make sure nobody will interrupt you and have some quiet time for yourself. Ready? Let’s get started!
Visualise (or see with your inner eye, using your imagination) a figure that is soothing, caring and loving: a grandmother/father, a spiritual teacher, an angel, your first pet, a magnificent tree, or even a hero from your favourite comic book! Feel free to unleash your creativity. You can include in this picture also a nourishing, safe and beautiful environment and your favourite beach, mountain, river or valley. Start opening your sense, notice the colours and textures. What do you smell? What can you hear?
The point of visualising this figure is to strengthen your sense of safety and warmth. It also supports the production of dopamine and ‘feel good’ hormones.
The more we practice, the more this creates a new memory of the experience and this can then replace old, less positive memories. The new replaces the old with cultivation through time and regular attention is given to practise.
We all carry a lot of stress and old memories in our bodies, so it is key to notice the ‘feel good’ feelings arising and consciously register them, as we are building a new and safe neural connection. Bathe yourself in the good chemicals!
Feeling like going the extra step? Imagine this benevolent character having a conversation with your inner critic.
- How would they silence or speak to the critic?
- What would they say to protect you?
3. What would they say to reassure you?
4. What would they say to praise you?
5. Which loving, accepting and kind things would they say about you?
6. Which words of wisdom would they have for you?
7. How they would celebrate you?
8. What can you learn from the inner critic?
9. How can you look at this dialogue from the perspective of your Core Sovereign Self?
And here below, to complete this last exercise, there are some questions for further reflection. Take your time, you can use your journal and go back to these notes whenever you are inspired.
1. What is the superpower of these benevolent figures? Why do you admire them?
2. What does this tell about you? What can you do to own these characteristics?
3. What is their core message for you?
4. What did you learn about your values?
5. What can you do to remember and integrate their message into your daily life?
6. What would prevent you to listen to their message?
7. What else did you learn about yourself?
8. What was valuable for you in this exercise?
9. If this benevolent figure would write a letter to your younger self, what would he/she say?
Once you strengthen the relationship with this benevolent figure, you can invoke them any time you feel overwhelmed by the chatter in your head. It’s just a matter of practice!
At the end of this practice, take some time to reflect on what you have noticed, what came up and write down the most important things you have learned.
This practice may stimulate new learning, new skills and the capacity of the brain to change itself (neuroplasticity). When your mind changes, your brain changes too. As you implement these different exercises, you are rewiring your brain and growing new neural connections (neurogenesis)! This is also a way to enhance mood, create behavioural changes and learn through fun, pleasure and play. This is considered one of the most effective ways to learn. Energy flows where attention goes!
Moreover, it is important to remember that these inner dialogues, parts or figures and characters developed when we were children and did not have tools to relate in a healthy way to our environment.
Dr Gabor Mate reminds us that when we are little we often trade authenticity for attachment because we depend on our parents at the very instinctual, ‘mammal’ and survival level. It would be too overwhelming for a little one to be furious with an adult and experience in his/her body the full scope of his/her feelings, especially when there is an experience of betrayal, rejection, abuse, neglect or abandonment. So often we interiorise a voice that is not ours.
I am not going here into analysing systems of oppressions and how things can be exacerbated in vulnerable and marginalised communities, as this would be the theme of a separate essay. I just want to acknowledge that exclusion, racism, contemporary forms of colonialism, white privilege, injustice also play a role in this picture.
For now, it feels relevant to add that some of these parts may have developed to protect us. They are the result of a very creative life force and adaptive mechanism. Now it is time to acknowledge, recognise, lovingly honour them.
Last but not least, I want to emphasise that this is not about pushing away the inner critic in a way that could become paradoxically another expression of self-aggression. The questions and exercise I offered are tools to look at things with an eagle view, to widen our perspective creatively, so we don’t need to relate to these inner voices in a victimised way.
Ultimately, it is all about strengthening our relationship with our inner resources, imagination, life-affirming voice, benevolent figures, resilience, so we can have more energy and vitality available to concentrate on what truly matters to us, rather than being drained by endless drama.
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” Mary Olivier
So, congratulations on the attention, time and self-care you gave to yourself!
Thank you for reading :-)
Laura Valenti is a certified Movement Medicine teacher, sound&voice therapist and coach. She supports midlife women to reconnect to their bodies, inner rhythms, wisdom and the Earth through movement, ritual, and voicework. Laura uses a somatic and trauma-aware approach. She lives in the countryside in Spain, where she offers sessions also to vulnerable adults and has shared her work internationally. Currently, she works online with groups and individuals and is preparing a seven-week journey for women who want to plant the seeds for personal and collective healing, belonging, and sacred kinship with all life. A nomad at heart, lover of good food, wilderness, community and music.