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Time to tame your inner critic!

It is often said that the most difficult relationship you have is the one you have with yourself.

I’d like to help you become aware of the dialogue you have with yourself, and to listen for the ways your negative self-talk sabotages your ability to make big decisions and try new things.

We are bully-busting the numerous tricks and ways your inner critic interferes with your dreams, business, career and life. But first, we need to understand just what our inner critic is and where it came from.

Where did it all start?  

Our inner critic is part of our ego structure and personality. We all have an inner bully or inner critic. If you haven’t met yours, maybe you get more of a feeling, or a physical sensation, when your bully is around. It’s common not to notice the presence of a voice speaking inside our heads. We may not be aware of its constant criticisms and judgments.

The inner critic has been with us since childhood so we think it’s a natural part of ourselves. It’s true; it is a part of ourselves, but it’s not us. We are its hosts. The inner critic has been living inside us, absorbing all of society’s expectations and ideals about what we should be doing, how we should be living up to our perfect selves. It’s been yelling this information back into our ears.

It’s amazing how universal the inner critic is. No one is immune to the constant chitchat of their negative self-speak. Every person on the planet will hear the criticisms of the inner-critic, but what it has to say will vary from person to person and country to country based on cultural ideals.

The inner critic comes from messages given to us since birth. It is born, just like us, into a family. Your inner critic takes on his or her role from birth. He or she is really the voice of your primary caregivers. They want you to grow into responsible adults and the inner critic is really a manifestation of their concern. Your primary caregivers mean well. They want you to excel out in the wide world, so they make comments to set you on the right path.

Just stop and think for a moment. Maybe you can remember scenarios where your mum made comments about your weight or looks; or you crashed your car or lost your new watch and were grilled about being irresponsible.

As children we absorb these negative, sometimes contradictory, messages. We don’t know how to process this information, to question it, until we reach our teens. What I mean by this is, as toddlers, we didn’t turn to our dad and say, “Hey, I’m not clumsy. That’s ridiculous. I’m just a little kid developing my fine motor skills.” Or, as a young child having just received an award, “Why can’t I stand up and receive all the accolades? It won’t go to my head.”

A child’s inability to critically analyse comments means they can internalise even the smallest flippant remark from a parent or teacher, and then create a story around it, giving it meaning and making it about themselves.

So what’s the critic’s role?

The critic exists to protect us from being shamed or hurt. Ironically, the critic wants us to succeed in life, to be accepted by our family, friends and peers, and to be loved and liked by others. However, the critic’s methods towards achieving this are often harsh, desperate and driven by anxiety. A full-blown alert to our waywardness, it chooses to magnify all our shortcomings and faults to keep us out of humiliation and harm’s way.

It modifies our behaviour by repeating what it saw and heard, teaching us how to stay safe, do well and avoid displeasing those who are crucial to our survival. If the critic feels we are too much, it will cut us down; if we are not enough, it will try to motivate us to excel. It functions just like our primary caregivers, fulfilling all their expectations. However, we have now grown up, but our inner critic has not; it keeps spewing the same outdated judgments, advice and criticisms in an attempt to keep us safe.

Is it all starting to make sense?

It’s the origin of our self-sabotaging behaviours and our fear of making mistakes. Self-sabotage is an intrapsychic conflict, a part of our personality that acts in conflict with another part. One side wants one thing; the other wants something completely different.

The inner critic creates this conflict because we become conflicted with the values and beliefs of our parents and our own natural desires and tendencies as adults. So, whilst the critic stops us, curbs our natural inclinations, and harshly instructs us to avoid hurt or shame, we feel conflicted because, although our behaviour is more acceptable to the eyes of our critic, we’ve abandoned our needs in the process.

Think about it. No baby is born lazy, clumsy or stupid. If I’ve brought to your attention the fact that you have picked up these messages along the way, I imagine there is already some relief at the prospect of diffusing them.

How To Tame Your Inner Critic

Get a sense of your critic. Notice what happens as the bully speaks.To start taming your inner critic, write down all his/her statements.

Start with an inner critic journal. Write down each day and at various times, and in different situations, the things your critic is saying to you. Note, too, what was happening at that time. Then think about what your inner bully is trying to achieve by talking to you. Do you notice any themes, such as a fear of failure, or patterns of behaviour, such as procrastination?

The critic is powerful, but only if you buy into its silly speak. That’s because your inner critic dates back to when adults always knew best. Adults were right and children were wrong. Even when the adults were wrong, they still had power over kids simply because they were older so knew better.

Last month, my Peter Perfect bully popped into my head while I was engrossed in my favourite TV show, Homeland. My lazy bully said: “Why haven’t you cleaned the bathroom?”

I said to my Bully: “Look, I’ve walked the dog, vacuumed downstairs, been to the supermarket, cooked a curry, but now I need to rest. Don’t bully me. I ended up with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for five years when I kept listening to you. We don’t want that again.”

The trick is to dialogue with the inner critic and negotiate a peaceful truce. In a sarcastic tone, I replied to my bully: “Thanks for caring about me so I don’t turn into a fat slob or die from bathroom mould, but I’ve heard enough and can assure you the task will get done sometime tomorrow.”

The trick to beating your bully is to argue against its extreme and distorted logic, but I also encourage you to acknowledge the pain and suffering the bully is causing you. Acknowledge it’s doing its job to protect you, but remember that its efforts are useless because you’re an adult now and have the message.

It’s time to start talking back to your bully.

  • What’s your bully saying to you?
  • What stories are they telling you?
  • As a result, what are you afraid of?
  • What’s stopping you in your tracks?

All about developing an awareness of your negative self-talk and devising strategies to incorporate into your life so that every time you hear the voice of the inner critic, you can recognise it and untangle yourself from it. You’re an adult with your own values, beliefs and ways of doing things – and you can think, decide for and protect yourself.

If you can improve your relationship with your inner critic, its voice will drown out. In its place, you’ll hear the voice of your authentic self and have the clarity and direction to move forward.

A paperback copy can also be purchased through Fiona Craig’s website, Life Balance Coach.

life coach sydney, stuck in a rut, Fiona CraigFiona Craig is an NLP practitioner & life coach, psychotherapist, business mentor, and published author of the award winning self-help book, “Stuck in a Rut – How to rescue yourself & live your truth” helping women remove the fear, worry and guilt to confidently take the steps towards creating the life they want to live.

Fiona has been interviewed by The Australian Women’s Weekly, Women’s Fitness Magazine and The New Daily and written articles for Collective Magazine, Herald Sun Melbourne, Sunday Life Magazine, Career One, I Am Woman Magazine, plus Mouths Of Mums and other online publications. You can learn more about working with Fiona at www.lifebalancecoach.com.au or call 0405 433 217.

Blog Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash