We all cultivate a voice inside our heads that criticizes, chastises, and judges us and what we do, no matter what it is.
Over time, this little voice grows stronger and robs you of your joy and enthusiasm for life. The key is to recognize—and work with—your not-so-friendly “Inner Critic.”
One of my favorite summer activities is riding my bike. I ride a fair bit from time to time. On weekdays the rides are short, an hour or two. On the weekends, I love taking longer rides, sometimes as much as 100-plus miles, riding down River Road, along the Mississippi and out and about in the beautiful Louisiana countryside. During the week, I think about my upcoming ride, and where I might go. Sometimes at night, as I doze off, I’d remember a recent ride, and imagining myself retracing the route.
Obsessive? Compulsive? Odd? Not to me. I used to find the anticipation and recollections all quite relaxing and stimulating. Yet, something has happened lately. I’ve stopped “loving” my longer rides. In fact, I’ve stopped going on the long rides altogether. (And it doesn’t have anything to do with the crazy Louisiana drivers.) Initially, I couldn’t figure it out. I could sense my diminishing enthusiasm for the longer rides, but couldn’t quite figure out the reason.
Then, like a flash of light I got it. I realized that I wasn’t riding alone at all. I was riding along with an unwelcome partner—my own personal Inner Critic.
The thing about a 100-mile ride, it takes a while. I’m on the bike six hours or so. That’s a long time to be alone with your thoughts and only your thoughts. And lately, as I have been making some changes in my business, the dialogue in my head has been pretty one-sided, dominated mostly by unproductive thoughts, the judgments, and pronouncements of my Inner Critic:
- “You idiot!”
- “What’s wrong with me?”
- “Why did I do that?”
- “How could I be so stupid?”
Who is your Inner Critic?
You all have private internal conversations inside our heads. Experts have assumed that your inner voice began when you start speaking, around 12-to 18-months old. You Inner Critic is assumed to begin when you first hear “No!” It springs from seeing and hearing boundaries, warnings, disapproval, and anger from your parents and others who raise you.
Jay Early and Bonnie Weiss have labeled seven types of Inner Critics:
- the perfectionist
- the taskmaster
- the inner controller
- the guilt tripper
- the destroyer
- the underminer
- the molder
Although beginning as a protection mechanism, over time, your Inner Critic (sometimes called your Gremlin) grows more insistent and disapproving, implanting feelings of low self-esteem, shame, insufficiency, and in some cases, depression. It is not uncommon that your Inner Critic can stymie your thinking and acting by conveying feelings of self-doubt that undermine your self-confidence.
Your Gremlin: Friend or Foe?
Is your Inner Critic an enemy or your friend? The experts are not unanimous on this point. That is because in reality, not everyone’s Inner Critic is the same. One school of thought is to treat your Inner Critic as an enemy to be dismissed, overcome, or ignored. This view is taken in Byron Brown’s Soul Without Shame, Richard Carson’s Taming Your Gremlin, and Elizabeth Lombardo’s Better than Perfect.
On the other hand, some researchers opine that your Inner Critic is an important friend who holds valuable information. Hal Stone’s Embracing Your Inner Critic, Tsultrim Allione’s Feeding Your Demons, fall into this camp.
Who is right? Some research indicates that a flexible approach might be best. In my opinion as a life coach, if your Inner Critic is insistent and stubborn, listening to its concerns might just be a good idea. If your Inner Critic is milder in its reproaches, gently ignoring it might just be the best avenue for you to take moving forward.
Observing your Inner Critic
In my work, I coach a great many financial advisors. I am a whole-hearted advocate of the power of observing yourself, cultivating the capacity to stand outside yourself and non-judgmentally witness your own feelings, thoughts, and actions. This can feel at times like watching a movie where you are one of the actors. But that’s ok. What I have seen to be most powerful is that the more you develop your capacity to observe, the more in charge you can be of your feelings, thoughts, and actions, and less controlled by other people, outside events—and that pesky Inner Critic.
When you take the position of the observer, you have the ability to notice what “is” while detaching yourself from your own feelings and thoughts. You learn to distinguish between your own sense of what’s true, and what’s actually happening around you. It is a way of being more “mindful” of the role that your own personal emotions, judgments, attachments, and opinions play in creating your world view, and in turn, your life.
Experiment: Observe your Inner Critic
Take a set period of time (a day? Half a day? A week?), keep a journal of all the assertions, pronouncements, and judgments offered or screamed at you by your Inner Critic. Don’t worry about suppressing your Inner Critic; it’s not going anywhere. Just listen politely, and take unbiased notes in your journal or some other easy to get at place.
By the very act of observing, you are calmly asking yourself:
- What’s happening now…moment by moment by moment?
As your observer becomes more practiced and discerning, you’ll get better at identifying the voice of your Inner Critic and simply accepting that this is momentarily the way it is—just another way of looking at things.
Strength in Observation
On a recent three-hour bike ride, I consciously decided that I would listen whenever my Inner Critic chimed in. I wouldn’t suppress or debate its opinion; I would simply take note of what it had to say.
On two separate occasions, my Inner Critic appeared and judged my past actions. A recent one from a week ago, and another issue from some 30 years ago!
I patiently let my Gremlin—my Inner Critic—have its say, and made a mental note or two. Then, amazingly enough, he quieted down, and I continued pedaling in peace.
Three hours later, back home again, I realized that I had completed one of my fastest rides ever. What a nice…coincidence?
So, give it a shot. Try observing your own Inner Critic and you just might find that you accomplish a whole lot more with a lot less stress and effort.
I am a life coach, not a licensed clinical social worker or psychotherapist or psychiatrist. Thus, I am not licensed to prescribe medicines or clinical therapies to address your Inner Critic. Should some type of clinical therapy be your answer, please reach out to the appropriate professional. My article is intended to be a short review of some approaches that are in the realm of popular coaching today. It’s a starting point for your own research and understanding.
Is your inner critic giving you hell these days? If that’s the case, there are options out there for you.
If your answer is a big yes, give me a call so we can talk about it… schedule a time for a free call and tell me about it.
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Books on the subject
For those of you who want to research your Inner Critic still further, here are resources that might be helpful:
- Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself From the Judge Within, by Byron Brown
- Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice: A Revolutionary Program to Counter Negative Thoughts and Live Free From Imagined Limitations, by Robert and Lisa Firestone
- Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way, by Richard Carson
- Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And Other Truths About Being Creative, by Danielle Krysa
- Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset, by Hal Stone
- Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict, by Tsultrim Allione
- Art Is a Way of Knowing: A Guide to Self-Knowledge and Spiritual Fulfillment Through Creativity, by Pat B. Allen
- Self-Therapy for Your Inner Critic: Transforming Self Criticism Into Self-Confidence, by Jay Early and Bonnie Weiss
- Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo