Tame That Inner Critic

I can’t do that – I’m not smart enough! I’m not educated enough! I’m not thin enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not qualified enough. I’m not worthy enough.  I’m not (fill in the blank).

The voice we converse with the most often is the one in our head.  The words this inner voice uses can build us up or tear us down. The inner critic often produces feelings of shame, deficiency, low self-esteem, and if left unchecked, depression.  

The challenge is when we repeatedly hear the same messages from this irrational chatterbox we start to believe them to be true, and these demeaning messages transmute into self-sabotage and limiting beliefs.  These thoughts hold us back from pursuing our dreams and fulfilling our potential.  

Where did the voice come from? These inner voices usually come from early life experiences that are internalized and taken in as ways we think about ourselves. As children we absorb environmental information as a raw download because we have not yet developed rational thought or the faculties that allow us to filter information.  We download messages, attitudes, and ideas from parents, siblings, caregivers, teachers, friends, and other people in our environment that we have an emotional connection to.  The messages are often intended to protect us from perceived danger to our development or to our acceptance by society.

This inner voice is developed as a child, and it can get in our way if it doesn’t mature with age.  Consider how a child behaves when he or she is asked to do something new or something they don’t want to do – there is an emotional reaction met with resistance.  Our inner critic is emotional, and it wants to protect us but it hasn’t developed the language or skill to present itself as a caring or mature voice yet.  Our job as a parent to this inner voice, is to mentor and coach it to behave in a way that is more considerate and tactful.

Like computers – our hardware gets updated with time.  So too we must update our software to be more compatible and productive.

Do you respond or react to the inner voice?  Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.  The same goes with our thoughts.  Here are considerations:

The silent treatment – you can choose to ignore the voice but that doesn’t mean it won’t go away.  Have you ever tried to give a screaming child the silent treatment?  They end up screaming louder.

Defiance – action is powerful when used responsibly. Depending on our emotional intensity, acting out in opposition of the voice can be effective at proving the voice wrong. However, if the intensity is high it may be an indication that you are in agreement with the perceived deficiency, a symptom of a limiting belief.

Doubt the doubt – question the uncertainty or disbelief. Treat the doubt with disbelief. Instead of looking for evidence to prove it correct, identify evidence that proves it wrong. In other words, make a list of all the positive outcomes and successes you’ve contributed to.

Reframe it – instead of giving in or making agreement with the voice, respond with hope and instruction.  For example: The voice says, “I’m not smart enough.” Reprogram the voice to say, “I’m in the process of learning.” Change,” I’m not organized” to “In the past I was disorganized, and now I’m getting better at being organized.”  

Separate yourself from it – that inner critic is not you or your authentic voice, it is a series of thoughts from your past that make frequent visits.  Brene Brown refers to the source of these thoughts as “The Nag”, Seth Godin calls it “The Lizard Brain”, Ed DeCosta calls it “The Gremlin”. When you separate yourself from it, you can be more objective.

Set expectations – once you’ve learned to separate this voice from yourself, then set some expectations of how it is to speak to you. For instance: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” “Instead of focusing on the problem, let’s explore some potential solutions.”

Develop your inner coach – Coaches access greater awareness and understanding through asking forward-thinking questions.  Train your brain to think in helpful questions such as: What am I learning from this? What information might I be missing? Or, what did I do well?

Taming your inner critic requires intention, practice, persistence and time.  

  • Be purposeful and thoughtful about how you’re going to approach your inner critic. Identify the dominating thoughts that are holding you back and plan some strategy on how to address them.  It can be helpful to journal this exercise, and if you can, speak to someone like a coach or a mentor who can offer some further perspective for you to work with.

  • By employing some of the tactics identified above, you are learning to better interact with the voice in your head.  Improved communication leads to improved relationships.  And when you consistently practice these new approaches, you make progress.

  • Just like learning anything new, it requires patient persistence. You are inviting a fresh dialogue in your mind that may in turn open up other opportunities for awareness and growth - at first blush, this may appear as further resistance from the inner critic.

  • When developing a new skill, consistent practice over the course of time leads to mastery.  

Your inner dialogue will either fuel your success or prevent you from reaching your full potential.  Claim your power to the dominating thoughts in your head, and take action.  Unleash your inner champion.

Jill Poulton