Would you remain friends with someone who constantly puts you down in nasty, vicious ways, over and over again? Highly unlikely. You would ditch that person who spoke to you like that. It is cruel, humiliating and attacks your sense of worth. Well the bad news is that that person is you. Yes. You. You talk to yourself in negative ways.
You experience your Inner Critic as thoughts in your head that belittle and demean yourself. As do I. Awful, isn’t it? Everyone has an inner critic and with our inner critic we batter ourselves, from the inside, with untruths. For working and career women our inner critic fills your head with negative thoughts, that can lead to self-sabotaging behaviours. Behaviours like taking on more roles at work when we already have a full load, or saying ‘yes’ when we should say ‘no’, or not putting our voice out there as one to be considered or allowing others to take credit for what we have done or hold us back from going for promotion or begrudgingly accept a salary less than what we are worth. The list goes on. Even the most successful woman will struggle her Inner Critic.
Unlike our Facebook friends we cannot simply ‘unfriend’ our inner critic. What a shame it is not as easy as that. The Inner Critic voice is with us everywhere, all the time, continually. You may be an incredibly successful career woman, partner, parent, adult child, but still have this internal critic putting you down, subjecting you to what can amount to abusive thoughts, in some or all aspects of your life.
What is Your Inner Critic?
The Inner Critic has been described by Dr Lisa Firestone, a psychologist and expert on this matter as: “The language of the defensive process. It has been defined as an integrated system of thoughts and attitudes, antithetical toward self and hostile toward others that is at the core of an individual’s maladaptive behaviour.” Check this out https://www.psychalive.org/critical-inner-voice/ In other words, we all have an inner critic that expresses disapproval and judgment, through critical self-talk, as a way of protecting us from ourselves and the world. It criticises any and all aspects of ourselves, such as appearance, intelligence, emotions, spirituality and so on. The way in which our inner critic shows up is different and unique for each one of us.
Your Inner Critic can range from being a light-weight to a destructive critic. It can serve to remind you of the risks and dangers, giving rise to your fear, to put you on alert. Just as fluently, your IC has the capacity to be so diminishing that it can freeze you from taking any action. The Inner Critic’s fear of failing can cause you to fail. Like a smothering parent that doesn’t want any harm to come to you, your Inner Critic can prevent you from living fully, being successful or even starting something in the first place.
What has your Inner Critic being saying to you recently?
Do you believe it?
Unlike your conscious, which a trustworthy moral guide, your Inner Critic does not speak the truth.
I am here to reassure you that not all is not doom and gloom. There is a way, with awareness and practice, to put your inner critic to good use. First though you need to understand your inner critic’s purpose and where it came from.
Origin and Purpose of Your Inner Critic
Its role is to protect you. Yeap, I know. What your Inner Critic says and how it says it, certainly does not sound protective most of the times. It can be cunning, vicious and relentless. It can turn the volume up so loud in your head that it is debilitating. When you start to understand its purpose though, you can start to accept why it is there.
It developed in your early years to protect your vulnerability by helping you adapt and meet the requirements of the world around you. To do its job, your Inner Critic, curbed some of your natural inclinations to make you acceptable to others. As a child, you picked up on the negative voices towards you and negative self-attitudes that adults, like our parents, teachers, carers as well as siblings and peers, around you had. Your Inner Critic would curb your behaviours before you were criticised or rejected by others, earning you love, protection and saving you from harm and shame.
Thus, your Inner Critic functions from a child’s perspective, a simplistic but rigid outlook on good and bad, right and wrong. It served you well as a child, to live according to the rules, to fit in, so that you could optimise love, affection and care when you were dependent on others to survive. Your Inner Critic was critical to survival.
However, just as a child lacks the experience and wherewithal to comprehend nuances, ambiguity and subtlety and is void of sophistication of thought and expression, so too is your Inner Critic. It is rigid and inflexible. So as adults, your Inner Critic does not serve you well as it does not have the ability to reason at the level required. Indeed, it has been shown that if your Inner Critic makes choices it can sabotage you, despite its protective intentions. It does not know when enough is enough.
Types of Inner Critic Voices
In her book, Inner Critic Inner Success, by Stacey Sargent (2013) she outlines 6 classic Inner Critics, as:
- The Perfectionist – any outcome short of perfections is failure. Or, I know I’ll fail to do it perfectly, so I’m not going to do it at all.
- The Driver – If I don’t do it at all, I’m a failure. Or, I know I can’t do it all, so I won’t even try. Which just confirms: I’m a failure.
- The Fraud – I don’t deserve what I have. I’m a fake, and it’s only a matter of time before I am found out.
- The Pleaser – I must make everyone happy or I won’t be loved.
- The Saboteur: This is too good to be true. So, I’ll do something to prove it.
- The Comparer: No matter how good I am, there’s always someone else who’s better.
Most people have more than one. Whilst Sargent identifies these 6 as the ‘classics’, there are many others, and she identifies a few more: The Judge, The Victim, The Debbie-Doubter, The Poseur, The Nag.
Which critics resonant with you?
I would welcome your sharing in the comment box below. Give your critic names that are meaningful with you, or choose a name that Sargent has listed.
By naming your Inner Critic it clearly establishes in your mind that the critic is NOT YOU, it is merely a facet that is no longer overly useful. This is the first step to bringing it into line, managing it so it no longer has control or sabotages you.
Different Perspectives on Managing your Inner Critic
There appears to be two main views about your Inner Critic. One is that Inner Critic is your mortal enemy and that you must engage in a battle to the death to kill it off. Only then are you free from its terrorising oppression. Really? How can that be helpful? The Inner Critic is an integral part of yourself, how can you rage a battle within yourself and enjoy life, live productively, embrace abundance and love unconditionally? Did you notice there is an assumption in that thinking – that you would win? What if you entered a battle and your Inner Critic won? What then? To me, this sounds like a dangerous approach, inherent with grave risk to yourself.
Even when you win skirmishes with your Inner Critic and you can’t silence it, it has a way of returning, just like many dieters who put back on the weight they lost (and some more). Your Inner Critic can come back with greater energy when it strongly believes that you are in danger. The more you resist the more it will persist.
Another view accepts the existence of an Inner Critic within and focuses on ways in which we can reframe it in our lives. Words such as: quieten; subdue; befriend; compassion; self-love; and, healing, are proposed as the way to step into a relationship with your Inner Critic. This view chooses to empathise and understand your Inner Critic as a part of you that wants to stay safe from potential emotional risks, such as shame, guilt, embarrassment, criticism, fear, exclusion, unloved, unworthy and many more. I prefer this approach.
In this activity, I invite you to tune into your Inner Critic’s voice. This is the first step as I mentioned above, to liberate yourself from the sabotage of your Inner Critic. It is a powerful step.
- First, know and be confident, that YOU ARE NOT YOUR INNER CRITIC. Do not doubt this.
- Recognise your Inner Critic. Discern between your Inner Critic and your realistic voice by using the following excellent guide written by Tara Mohr in 7 Ways to Recognise you Inner Critic, http://www.taramohr.com/2012/01/7-ways-to-recognize-your-inner-critic/ Tara mentions that usually not all of these qualities are in operation at the same time but usually more than one will be.
i. This voice critiques us harshly. If you hear a voice saying things you would never say to another person, it’s the inner critic.
ii. If you feel out of control of this voice, more like you hear it than you create it, like it invades your thinking rather than reflecting your real thoughts, it’s the inner critic.
iii. The inner critic repeats itself. If you are plagued by the same thoughts over and over, not really thinking but rather hearing a broken record, it’s the inner critic.
iv. If you hear a thought you know is irrational or untrue, but the thought won’t leave you, it’s the inner critic.
v. The inner critic also attacks us for hosting the thoughts it just put in our heads. After it criticizes, or plays out the worst-case scenario, it follows up with lines like these, “Get a grip, get some perspective” or “Don’t be so insecure, other people are confident and relaxed…just look over at Joe….”
vi. Though the inner critic seeks to sabotage you, it makes arguments about what’s in your best interest — what is realistic, effective, what will protect you from harm, what will ensure the best outcome. The inner critic tricks us by framing its argument in terms of what’s best for us.
vii. The inner critic may take inspiration from people in your life who played the role of outer critic. It adapts and expands on their behaviour and often exists as a version of their voices inside your head. Listen for echoes of a parent, a sibling, a boss, or the voice of societal institutions or major cultural forces such as your religion, company, or country.
3. Write down what your Inner Critic is attempting to get you to do. Label the type of critic that it is and reflect on as much detail as you can, such as: When does it show up? Is there a pattern? Does its voice sound familiar, if so, who?
4. Remember though, you ARE NOT YOUR INNER CRITIC.
In the next blog, we will examine different ways in which you can quieten your Inner Critic. Then you will be able to determine which works best for you. You can have control over your Inner Critic. Although it takes a bit of practice you will be able to take back your thoughts and personal power. This will involve acknowledging your Inner Critic and accepting its role, whilst intercepting it when it is not helpful or relevant.