What is an Inner Critic?
We all have an inner critic. Critics tend to:
- Get in the way of our aspirations and potential success.
- Evaluate us from the sidelines without doing any actual work!
- Judge us and our feelings, behaviours, and actions.
- Sometimes even judge our entire self as in, “You’re just all bad, worthless, a loser”.
- Tell you what should or should not happen as if they were the authority.
- Set hard to meet expectations often disguised as “perfection”.
- Make us feel small for not meeting expectations.
- Make us believe that the person judging us is someone we value or love.
- Doubt our ability outright.
- Tell us directly that we won’t succeed.
- Shame us for not doing better.
- Make us feel guilty.
- Cause us to quit too soon.
When something attacks you from the inside – your inner critic is at work!
We Can All Handle the Inner Critic Better
I work with people who battle these demons often. I am also no stranger to them when it comes to my work and life. Whether it’s a piece of writing or a meal, before the world can offer me its critique, one of these pesky monsters shows up to do the job. When they succeed, I end up feeling bad. But when I spot them for what they are, I smile and feel stronger. It’s easier to face the gazillion real challenges out in the real world without having to waste energy on fighting yourself.
Inner critics can have a big and negative impact, especially when you have a lot of time on your own. And if you’re tired or find yourself on a long quest, things can quickly spiral out of control when an internal critic show up uninvited.
Over the years, I’ve developed many techniques and tools to manage and even befriend these saboteurs.
In this series of blogs, I want to help you get to know your adversary so that you can clear your path to success!
The First Step: Identify Your Inner Critic
A good first step is to get to know your inner critic. We will do this today!
Critics can be grouped into specific types. Below are some examples from my life to give you a starting point to identify your own. I’ve given my critics names as this helps me work with them better. Over the years I have managed to completely befriend some of them. A few are still my work in progress.
- Miss Perfect! – This one tries to get me to do everything in the perfect way but she is a he! Mr. Perfect has incredibly high standards for everything. When those are not met this critic tells me that my work is just not good enough! This verdict once delivered always makes it hard to continue working. My energy collapses when Mr. Perfect shows up. This is disempowerment 101.
- The Underminder – This one is androgynous. It tries to erode my confidence and self-esteem so that I don’t take risks that could end up in failure or be my biggest successes. Its frequent language is cruel and meant to cut me down. It will often say things like “You’re worthless”, “You’re such a loser!” Critics like this one tend to feel deeply threatened by growth and true empowerment.
- The Oracle Frenemy – This one appears like an old, wise and often good-natured-looking woman hence the “frenemy”. It likes to tell me that while I work hard and my effort and intentions are noble (notice the good bit), in the end, no matter what I do, I will still fail. It’s only a matter of time. That’s the bit that gives it away as a critic.
- Ghost Trees – this one takes its name from one of the deadliest surfing spots near Pebble Beach in Northern California. Ice cold water, sharks and a shore lined with massive boulders ready to break your spine. Ghost Trees attacks at my core. It is dark. Deep dark. It goes for the entire self and my self-worth. It spits things like “You’re better off dead!” or “The world won’t miss you much.” This is a crushing 70 feet plus mega wave that can extinguish all vitality, creativity or desire to do anything. If it lasts for any longer than an hour or two, it would probably equal deep clinical depression.
- Serge – this one is a mixture of a sophisticated socialite, artist, and intellectual that has been crisscrossed with the likes of Bond, as in James Bond a few generations back. It has a full persona, distinct appearance, a high-end dinner dress style, and speaks holding a cigarette. When it shows up, it always brings the same energy with it: disdain. Its message clear: I lack talent and sufficient cleverness to ever achieve something worthwhile. I know Serge well. He helped me in practical demonstrations of how to work with your inner critic at Imperial College London for years. During my leadership development retreats enacting Serge made attendees laugh. They could easily relate to his persona. As I would describe his impact on me, they would easily reconnect with their own critic. Once you can see what you’re up against and armed with a few techniques, life improves quickly.
- The Guilt Tripper – This female character attacks me for something I may have done to someone I care about. It will make me feel bad even though true remorse is not drowning yourself in sorrow but rather putting things right! It will show up, for example, when I don’t send a greeting card to my dear friend knowing she loves getting them.
A few others I have met working as a coach with my clients include:
- The Broken Record – It shows up on the scene when someone breaks one of their key values or is a victim of someone else doing that to them. Broken record likes to dwell in the same story, no matter how much time has passed. It tries to remind you of that specific instance when you got hurt. Or, when someone let you down. It will do this over and over because it does not want to forgive and let it go. Its key resource is a guilt trip either for you or someone else. I have seen the Broken Record turn problematic when it recruits other critics to its aid. Imagine the Ghost Trees joining in! This is how relationships end for the wrong reasons, business partners part company, conflict festers and poisons families. Broken Record squeezes out the meaningful dialogue.
- Identik – This one tries to get people to fit into their family expectations and/or cultural norms. The mold they need to fit can be anything – top beauty queen, high-browed intellectual, skinny model, a successful CEO, obedient son/daughter etc. Whenever you step outside of the boundary of what Identik permits – he/she attacks! Identik is also a Frenemy. It offers strokes when you behave in a way that fits in with what’s expected except he robs you of your true expression.
- The Blamer – This little monster will tell you that it’s all your fault when things don’t work out. It is a critic as is assumes that everything is really up to you. It is delusional and bound on making you feel bad and worthless if you let it.
- The Ditch Sheriff – this one is an externalized Blamer. It finds fault with everything and everyone and blames them for your misfortunes. Often it does not end there too. The Ditch bit is a Leaver that makes you abandon good things for the wrong reasons. If you ever abandoned something or someone that mattered to you or gave up on a hobby that was fulfilling, this monster got you.
I could keep going but I think you get the idea. There are many critics and they need to be neutralized.
An Exercise to Befriend Your Inner Critic
Below is a short exercise you can do to start befriending your inner critic.
Imagine one of your critics that most often attacks you. When you have it clear in your mind answer the questions below.
- What scenarios help bring it out?
- What does it say to you?
- How does it impact you specifically?
- How long does it stick around before you notice something changing?
- What do you try to do in order to free yourself from its corrosive dominance?
- How well does this work?
Make Time Count Can Help You Work with Your Inner Critic
On our Heart and Mind retreats, we help participants change their relationship with their inner critic and heal it. And, we do this in a way that is fun and lasting. If you would benefit from more personal approach why not consider 1:1 coaching.
“ You’re off to great places.Dr. Seuss
Today is Your day!
Your mountain is waiting, so…
Get on your way!”
Go get them tiger/tigress! Take your life into your hands and make time count.