My Life with “Sheila,” My Inner Critic

“If you don’t change direction, you’ll end up going in the same direction.” —Yogi Berra

I love this quote by Yogi Berra, because it reminds me that I actually have to do things differently to get a different result. As the old adage goes, “If you do what you did, you get what you got.”

That’s the story of my relationship with “Sheila,” my inner critic. Why Sheila? I don’t know, I just figured that I had to give her a name so that I could create some space between her and me. It was a way to remind myself that that inner voice in my head wasn’t a harbinger of doom or the ultimate truth teller, and certainly is not who I am.

What kind of things does Sheila say? “Wow, you really screwed that up; they’ll never ask you back again.” “What an idiot!” “Who would do a thing like that, you nincompoop?!” “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

She’s fierce and vicious, and she doesn’t let up. She never acknowledges all the good stuff I do; she’s too busy giving me a hard time. Boy, what kind of friend is that??

I finally decided to take things into my own hands and put Sheila in her place! That doesn’t mean she’s gone, but she doesn’t run my life anymore.

Reclaiming a Kinder Inner Voice

What did I do? I started practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion isn’t selfish, indulgent, or letting yourself off the hook. It’s treating yourself with kindness, like you would a friend. It’s acknowledging how hard it is sometimes to be human; feeling the pain and suffering when life throws you a curve ball, or when you make a mistake, or feel inadequate in some way.

The first thing I needed to do was use mindfulness practice to see clearly what I was doing to myself and how much pain it was causing.

The clear-seeing had to do with reminding myself that those critical thoughts in my head are not who I am, that most of the time they are not even the truth and they are rarely useful. To recognize that “Sheila” might at times have some useful things to say, but most of the time she was just a cranky old bitch. Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Our mind secretes thoughts, just like our saliva glands secrete saliva.”

Once I got that out of the way, I really needed to feel the pain of what Sheila was doing to me (what I was doing to myself). Letting it in and just saying, OUCH!! That hurts!

Next, it was time to actually soothe myself for the pain and acknowledge that suffering is just a part of being human. To say and do something kind and loving, like putting my hand on my heart and saying, “It’s okay, sweetheart; you did the best you could. Everyone makes mistakes. You are not alone.”

What a Difference!

I really did change direction, and now I’m headed a different way. As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Thanks to mindful self-compassion practices, Sheila doesn’t run my life anymore. Oh, she’s still around, but now I can hear what she has to say, see if there is anything of value, and thank her for her opinion. Because I’m not in so much pain, I can actually hear when she is telling me something important. And choose not to listen when she’s not.

Scroll to Top