Image credit to Dan Norman Photography, 2019
We all have an Inner Critic. And we all waste energy trying to quieten or ignore it. What if you could save all that energy and make progress despite that nagging voice? You can. And it is easier than you think.
Your inner critic serves a purpose
My inner critic has been awfully loud for the last two weeks. I’ve been helping my son face a challenge that really only he can face. I’ve been sitting beside him, supporting, cheering, commiserating as he perseveres in a way that only children can. And I’ve been listening to my inner critic shouting in my head: “you’re expecting too much”, “you’re doing it wrong”, “you’re not helping enough”.
On the Becoming Journey we talk to women about their inner critic – that voice inside your head that tells you some version of a “you’re not good enough” story. But, rather than waste emotional energy trying to ignore, unhear, quieten or even kill off that inner critic, we help women to accept it.
Your inner critic serves a purpose. She (or he, or they – no gender assumptions here!) is a protector. She spends all her time looking out for risk – the risk of being excluded from your group, or being hurt physically or emotionally by a course of action. She looks to the future, imagines how things might turn out, and warns you in no uncertain terms if she spots any danger.
In my case, she’s jumping up and down, waving red flags and letting off warning flares, telling me that I’m pushing my son too far, that I’m risking his self-confidence, that I’m risking my relationship with him.
And yet, this is a challenge that he wants to face and he needs my support. I can’t be the parent I want to be if I don’t help him now. So I’m ignoring her and quietly and determinedly following my plan.
Working around that nagging voice of doubt
When we work with women, we share some simple techniques to help them to accept and progress despite their inner critic.
1. Welcome her into your life
Have you ever truly listened to your Inner Critic? Spend a moment now listening to her voice – is it female, male, old, young, accented, melodic, strident? Think about how she looks. Imagine if she were a character from a film or literature or pop culture, who would she look like? If you enjoy drawing, draw her face and her body, perhaps in her most common pose.
Once you have a clear image in your head, name her. Whether it is Alice or Zoe, give her a name that you can use when she speaks, so that you can acknowledge her and her point of view.
2. Recognise her stories
Our inner critic often has a recurring story that she likes to tell us. It will be some version of the “I’m not good enough” story that she has found is particularly likely to stop you in your tracks. For me, it’s something around “you’re letting them down”. For others it might be “you’re too stupid / fat / ugly / boring, etc”.
Think about the story that she tells you and write it down. Next time she uses it, acknowledge it: “ah, here it is again, the ‘I’m letting them down’ story”
3. Thank her for her help
What do you normally do when you get advice? Even when we think it is dreadful advice, often we just nod, say thank you and walk away. So do the same with your inner critic. Treat her compassionately, like a friend. Thank her for supporting and caring about you and let her know that you’ll take her point of view into consideration.
When you hear her voice, listen respectfully and then say “Thanks Alice, I can hear that you’re worried that I’m letting them down. Thanks for worrying about me”.
And then, most critically, decide how you want to move forward. You can choose how you act, no matter how loud your inner critic’s voice is. You’ve been doing it all of your life. Think of times when you have done something despite your inner critic – given a speech, gone for a job, signed up for a challenge. Even when she’s jumping up and down, waving the warning flag, you can acknowledge and thank your inner critic, and then choose how you want to progress.