Making Friends with Your Inner Critic

Ever notice that voice inside? The one that makes you feel afraid, or guilty or anxious? That one that tells you not to bother, or you’re never going to make it, or you’re not really any good. That’s your Inner Critic. And the problem is, your Inner Critic knows all about you — it knows all of your experiences, your fears and your dreams. And it has all that great material to work with, and it can create a story that is hard to ignore.

That’s not to say that there aren’t also exterior forces pushing us down along the way — the job we didn’t get, the amazing presentation that wasn’t noticed, or the dinner date that went really wrong. The Inner Critic might be right there and waiting to pounce when there is something unpleasant or hurtful in the real world. 

Start Listening

So, if you can’t ignore it, how about listening? And I mean really listen.  Your critic, believe it or not, might be trying to help you. It might be saving you from humiliation, rejection or abandonment. It might be trying to help you gain approval by using tried and true methods. The problem is, you might not need saving.  

You may think it’s crazy, but you can open up a conversation with your Inner Critic. Tell it (or him or her) that you appreciate its concern, but that you really do want to apply for that job. And yes, you might be disappointed in not getting it, but that you think it’s riskier not to apply for this dream job.  Let you Inner Critic know that you don’t need that much protection.

Getting to know your Inner Critic

Start by getting to know your Inner Critic. What kind of critic is it?  Jay Early and Bonnie Weiss, in their book “Freedom from your Inner Critic” offer seven different types of Inner Critics. Think about a time when you struggled or lacked self-confidence.  Then carefully read these and consider which ones sound most like your Inner Critic. Here are my paraphrased versions of Early and Weiss’s categories:

  1. Perfectionist: tries to get you to do everything perfect. Has high standards, is intolerant of mistakes, is hyper-critical when things don’t turn out right, and pushes you to put out impeccable work, well beyond the standard required  
  2. Inner Controller:  tries to control impulse behavior. Makes you feel bad when you lose control, punishes you for indulging yourself, and makes you feel ashamed for some of your habits
  3. Taskmaster:  tries to get you to work hard.  Pushes you to work very hard to be successful, provides an endless list of things to do, and accuses you of being lazy if you don’t always work
  4. Underminer:  tries to undermine your self-confidence. Tries to stop you before you even start by convincing you that it won’t work, that its safer not to try rather than try and fail, and that you don’t have what it takes anyways
  5. Destroyer: attacks your self-worth. Convinces you that you are flawed, makes you feel ashamed for who you are, makes it impossible to hang on to a positive self-image, and might even convince you that you don’t have a right to exist
  6. Guilt Tripper:  attacks you for a specific action you took. Stops you from forgiving yourself for something you’ve done, makes you feel guilty for things you have done to people, makes you believe that you’re a bad person for not taking better care of the people you care about, and can keep you wondering if you’re a bad person
  7. Molder:  tries to get you to conform. Gives you a hard time when you do anything that doesn’t fit in, tries to keep you sticking with your “childhood programming” by making you feel bad if you veer off, makes you feel ashamed if you don’t measure up to the expectations of others, and makes you feel bad if you can’t be what your family or culture expects.

One or more of these might be resonating as the voice inside. Now you can start to think about what pain your Inner Critic might be trying to protect you from. After all, protecting you is what it is doing.  As mis-directed as it may seem, Early and Weiss explain that your Inner Critic might think “that pushing and judging you will protect you from hurt and pain…if it can get you to be a certain way — perfect, successful, cautious, nice, slim, outgoing, intellectual, macho, and so on — then you won’t be shamed or rejected.”

Accepting the positive motives of your Inner Critic is part of the conversation — putting you and your inner voice on the same page. So what are you being “protected” from?  It might be trying to avoid judgement or rejection, or it might be anticipating a lack of approval or admiration.

Take the example of your Inner Critic worrying about a job interview.  You might be all psyched up and are almost ready for the interview.  You’ve done some research and know you’re a good fit for this job. True, you might not get an offer, after all, it’s a competitive world, but you’ve got a good shot. That is, until your Inner Critic decides to protect you from rejection. It might tell you over and over that you won’t get the job anyways. And if the critic is successful, maybe you don’t bother doing that extra research into the company that you had been thinking about. Why waste your time?  And maybe you don’t plan to arrive early, then traffic makes you late.  And in the interview that you’re late to, you don’t show much enthusiasm. And then when you don’t get the job, you won’t be devastated because you really weren’t expecting it anyways. 

Can you see how your Inner Critic sabotaged you?  What chance you had was narrowed by limited research, a late arrival and less-than-stellar interview performance. 

If you can notice and listen to you Inner Critic, you might tell it:

Thanks but NO thanks. I’ll take the risk of rejection.

Then, just in case the interview doesn’t go well, because life is life, put your best support partner on speed dial.

Working with your Inner Critic might take some practice — far more than can be covered here.  But these are some steps that can help:

  • Notice that your Inner Critic is talking to you
  • Listen to what it has to say
  • Recognize the pattern of behavior (the 7 types above)
  • Respond — engage in a discussion.

As Early says: “We can’t silence the Inner Critic by fighting it or giving into its demands … but there is a way to transform it into an invaluable ally.” I highly recommend Early and Weiss’s book — it’s a guide that really can help you turn your Inner Critic into an ally.

I hope you can learn to hear your Inner Critic — because when you can hear it, then you will know when to say “no thank you.” I’m trying to really hear mine too!

I am always happy to hear from you, with any insights from my writings, or just to connect.  You can reach me through my about page or find me on LinkedIn.