A Non-Punishing "No"
Setting compassionate boundaries with aspects of yourself ~ especially the inner critic ~ can be tricky. Many people have a black-and-white, all-or-nothing understanding of boundaries, especially with themselves. The truth is that there are times when the compassionate response is to say "Yes"; to stop, sit, and listen to the parts of yourself that are calling for your attention ~ including your inner critic. And, there are other times when the loving response is to acknowledge that that part of yourself is activated, and to respond with a non-reactive, non-punishing, "No."
So, how do you cultivate the capacity to set compassionate boundaries with your inner critic? It can have such a convincing voice of authority. So, how do you know when to say "yes" and when to say "no"?
Well, in some ways the question itself is a bit of a set-up; it's playing by the inner critic's rules of there being one right answer. You don't have to do that. You get to make the rules about how to respond in any situation.
Instead of looking for a black-and-white, yes-or-no answer, experiment. If you usually say "yes" and collude with your inner critic, see what happens when you say "no" instead. Notice what comes up; what feelings you may have been avoiding by usually (or always) saying yes. Bring kindness to your experience, knowing that you acted with a spirit of experimentation and genuine curiosity.
Remember that it takes strength to refuse to collude with your inner critic; to recognize, as William Stafford says in his poem below, that "Your exact errors make a music/that nobody hears." If you experience a wave of self-judgment after experimenting with setting a boundary, notice that. Get curious about it, knowing that this type of awareness is like a muscle that needs to be used to grow stronger.
It may also help to remember something else that's often true about the inner critic: it seems to get very loud whenever you move closer to something you have worked hard for; something that will require you to fully outgrow ways of being in the world that don't really fit anymore. The loud presence of your inner critic might just be a signal that you are moving in a very generative (and therefore threatening) direction.
In When Things Fall Apart, Pema ChÃ¶drÃ¶n tells the story of a young warrior who respectfully goes to battle with Fear. Fear and the Inner Critic seem to be rather similar in their strategies. Pema writes that when the warrior asks how to defeat Fear, Fear says, "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don't do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don't do what I say, I have no power."
Just by saying "no", you can disarm Fear (or the Inner Critic). The "no" muscle needs some reps to grow stronger, so I hope that this practice is supportive of your experiments. Remember, having a healthy boundary with your inner critic means acknowledging its presence, meeting it as fully as you can, and ~ no matter what it says ~ doing the next compassionate thing.