Nearly everyone I’ve come across can attest to having a critical voice in their head that just won’t shut-up. Worse than that, this voice seems to speak up at the most inopportune times. For myself, I most often hear it when I’m in the midst of grinding out a project on my way to meeting a goal. Thoughts like “What the hell are you doing?”, “Who do you think you are to try this?”, “You idiot, what were you thinking?” throw jabs when I have my guard down. Rather than talk about where these voices come from, I thought I’d offer you four tactics to help you silence them.
Ask for feedback
This only works if you are asking for feedback from someone who knows you inside and out and deeply loves you, which is one primary reason why you need close, intimate friendships. If most of your relationships are shallow, and if the person you call on doesn’t already know your shame, pain and gains, their feedback will mean little to nothing. On the other hand, if they know you and love you, their feedback can quickly extinguish the flames of mental violence. James tells us to share our shame and sin with other believers, so that we may be whole and healed (5:16).
When you find yourself beat down by critical thoughts, here are a few questions to ask that trusted friend:
‘Here’s what I’ve been thinking lately, _____. Can you tell me what parts you see as true and what parts you see as false?’
‘What is your experience of me as a friend?’
‘Can you affirm the aspects of me that you find to be good/positive?’
Listen to this passage from Revelation 12:10-11 (MSG)
“The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out, who accused them day and night before God. They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb and the bold word of their witness. They weren’t in love with themselves; they were willing to die for Christ.”
The Accuser, our enemy, constantly throws darts of shame and lies at us, trying to convince us that the gospel isn’t as good as we first heard. Throughout Scripture one main tactic against these accusations is through prayer that centers us in truth ('blood of the Lamb and bold word of their witness'). When you find yourself accused or unduly critiqued, move away from distractions and center yourself in prayer. One form of prayer I have found helpful follows breathing in 4’s.
Breathe in slowly through your nose for 4 seconds, filling your abdomen (not your chest), and as you do so breathe in a truth of the Word of God. i.e. ‘I belong to Abba’, ‘I am loved and desired by Almighty’, ‘My God takes delight in me’
Hold this breath and this truth in your abdomen for 4 seconds. Let it sink down from your head into your heart.
Slowly breathe out for 4 seconds and reject the lie of the Accuser. Something like, ‘By the powerful blood of Jesus, I reject the lie that I am _______ (unlovable, an idiot, a mistake, invisible, unwanted)
Sit still without breathing in or out for 4 more seconds. Allow yourself to be open to the Spirit and the truths God wants you to be filled with.
Do this at least four times.
After judgment, then fear, God (once again) rescued Israel. What was Samuel’s response? In Samuel 7:12 (MSG) we read that he ‘took a single rock and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it “Ebenezer” (Rock of Help), saying, “This marks the place where God helped us.”
Why a rock?
My family and I live by a river which is dam controlled 20 miles up from us. Some days it’s a slow meandering water, crystal clear and only a few feet deep. At other times, it rises 20+ feet high, moving trees and tears up dirt. And yet, the rocks my son set up months ago are still sitting in their same place. Rocks serve as good markers, rarely moving, that you can return to time and time again.
I imagine Samuel knew this when he set up his Rock of help.
In my office, I have a stone that I have written out a truth about myself that I have a hard time believing, but that I am fully confident God has affirmed. During times when I get highly self-critical or find myself severely accused without reason, I return to this rock, hold it in my hands and remember how it is Almighty sees me. A dear friend of mine once advised me to ‘not forget in the dark what God has shown me in the light’.
Write out on paper, wood, a stone, or anything tangible, a truth or two that you have a hard time believing. Keep this in an accessible place and return to it in times of doubt or when you are pummeled by lies.
Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens sing sonnets about the glory of God. I’d say that’s a good place to start focusing. When I feel overwhelmed by my own junk or buried under years of unjust critical thoughts, I like to get outside and focus on the small stuff of creation. Sometimes I remember Jesus saying that God cares for the flower, which is here one day and gone the next, and how much more he cares for me, but sometimes I just pay attention to what’s in front of me. Whether I understand it or not, all of creation is singing to me the glories of Almighty. I find it’s helpful to just sit in the music and let it seep into the dark crevices of my soul.
If you think you’re not the contemplative type, let me encourage you with the reality that you were made in the image of God, the great Creator, the one who knows the number of hairs on your head. I think it’s fair to say being contemplative is in our very nature. All you need to do is give yourself some time and space to let it happen.