The Inner Critic Voice
Updated: Dec 31, 2018
I recently asked my partner if he ever has an inner critic voice telling him one of the following:
"I'm not good enough" "I'm so upset with myself for making this mistake"
"If I say what I think I might look stupid"
"Nobody likes me"
He raised an eyebrow, and looked at me - almost surprised - and said: "Of course not!"
And you know what - I know him well enough to believe him.
Many years ago, I was playing an online game (World of Warcraft) - and one day, during a group raid trying to kill a big bad virtual monster, I made a mistake. This meant we had to start over. The leader of the group said to me:
"Are you stupid?"
Mistakes happen, and as far as consequences go, this meant we had to go again and wasted 20 minutes of time. In the bigger scheme of things, not a big deal.
Two days later, when I went to buy some bread from the supermarket, I burst into tears in the middle of the bakery isle. Uncontrollable tears and sobbing - obviously I was embarrassed and so were the other shoppers walking past me (and probably avoiding me!)
Buying bread shouldn't be so traumatic!
This didn't make any sense.
A week later, here I was rubbing my hands with anxiety, sitting on my new life coach's sofa. I have no idea why I started crying uncontrollably next to the 6-pack long-life croissants - I said - but two days ago someone asked if I was stupid, and I feel somehow that's relevant.
Listening to myself saying these words, I actually did feel stupid for even verbalising it.
Coaching has helped me realise that what was actually happening was that this particular event triggered my inner critic who went into overdrive and, as a result, I was struggling to cope even with the most basic tasks like buying bread. After a few sessions, I started to understand that this inner critic reacting wasn't a one-off event, but something I must've learned during childhood and just adopted as my inner voice and has now become almost instinctual. Great - now I need more coaching! Can I ever be fixed?
Becoming aware of this voice was the first step in my healing journey. I learned how this inner dialogue was holding me back. And I discovered what I could achieve - not by removing it, as you might instinctually assume - but by replacing it.
It's funny. When you think about your best friend being distraught and upset: what's the first thing you would do?
Tell them it's going to be okay?
Yet, when it comes to ourselves, why is it that we bring out the worst critic who - instead of comforting us and telling us "It's going to be okay" - it puts us down and tells us we're no good?
My own healing journey has helped me get in tune with my inner mind and become aware of when I'm having this self-sabotaging dialogue with myself.
And then something interesting happened: I started noticing it not just in myself, but in others too.
In a way, I took comfort in knowing that I am not alone.
But also... a deep sadness that I am not alone.
And while I can't sit here and claim that after this long journey I always pat myself on the back for everything I do, and that my inner critic never comes out, what I have managed is that with each coaching session, book I've read or course I've attended, I've added a new tool in my Inner Critic Survival Toolbox. I now have a range of tools I can access when my inner critic is triggered. And instead of dealing with it through paralysis, stress and anxiety, I've learned to manage it in healthier ways. And while in the past it might set me back, I've learned to use it to help drive me forward.
You see, every trigger in our brain is feedback. The problem is that sometimes the brain *chooses* how to interpret it. And it often does so in disastrous ways.
My boss criticised my sales this month?
This is too hard.
I can't do this job.
I am worried about my mortgage.
And my future.
And this is how our inner critic often blocks us or prevents us from even accepting constructive feedback that would otherwise help drive us forward.
If any of this resonates with you, know this: you can be happy. You can thrive. You can allow yourself to accept that promotion and not feel like a fraud in doing so.
Here are my top 3 tools in my Inner Critic Survival Kit:
- Awareness. Once your inner critic is triggered, you go into automatic/instinctual mode. The switch is pressed, the bomb explodes. Just being aware of when this happens - even if after the event - helps us understand when and how our inner critic is triggered. The first step in solving a problem, is being aware that you have a problem.
- Question myself. When our inner critic is triggered, we often state assumptions as factual truths. He thinks I'm stupid. She doesn't realise I'm a fraud. I'm not good enough. Give yourself permission to question these "truths". How do I know what he thinks? Can I read minds?
Could it be that she does realise my potential, but I don't?
What would it look like, if I was good enough?
- What would my best friend do? Similarly to the previous analogy, if my inner critic was saying these things, what would my best friend say to me?
And what would it look like, if I said those things to myself?
You might be one of the fortunate people who, like my partner, has never struggled with the inner critic and can't relate to any of this. If that's the case, I commend you. For everyone else, know that there's more to life than this. If you feel you're ready to become the Adult you really want, I'd love to be by your side on this journey.
Here's a TEDx video about the power of the Inner Critic:
And if you want to do some more reading on the topic and how Transactional Analysis models the Parent-Child-Adult (PAC) method as defined by Eric Berne, you can read Games People Play.