What is Your Inner Critic Saying?
I love asking children what they want to be when they grow up. Whether it is a fireman, a baker, an astronaut, a scientist, or a business person, what always strikes me is the unwavering confidence that they have in their abilities to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, as life moves on, children often have that I-can-do-anything mentality taken away and then replaced by another voice, the inner critic, which tells them that they are not good enough, smart enough, or capable enough.
For many people, this voice that started as a pre-teen continues to follow them into adulthood; although they may be successful according to society, this voice consistently limits them and even shows up in times where there is a great opportunity for growth, such as before an important job interview, when making decisions about that long thought through business idea, or taking action on a big move across the country/world. This voice says, "Who are you to be doing this?" What if anyone finds out how incompetent you are?" and "You will never make it in another job in what you have always done." It leaves you feeling deflated, stuck, insecure, and confused.
Tara Mohr, the author of, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead (2014), identifies eleven qualities that are commonly present in the voice of the inner critic. These can be found in the first chapter of her book.
1. Is the voice harsh, rude, or mean?
A good way to decide whether this is true or not is to ask yourself whether you would say the same words to someone you love and care about. If you wouldn't, then it is a good sign that maybe you do not benefit from saying it to yourself!
2. Is the voice using black-and-white thinking?
Either you are completely capable or not capable at all, or going to 100% succeed or fail miserably, or be either loved or hated. There are no in-betweens or balanced thinking for the black-and-white thought.
3. Does the voice appear to be the voice of reason?
That inner voice of reason can be beneficial to a certain extent; however, it can also be arguing for what may seem to be to your benefit, but is still holding you back or limiting your progress.
4. Is the voice saying that you are not ready yet?
There is always another book to read, another training to attend, more certification to obtain, and another degree. The voice that says you are not ready is never satisfied.
5. Is the voice saying that you are not good at a skill (for example, technical skills, financial management, etc)?
This is especially relevant for skills that are outside of the cultural norms for your gender, age, education, etc.; regardless, this voice can convince you that without those skills you are crazy to take on a new venture.
6. Is the voice saying that your appearance is not up to par?
This shows up in shame around perfectionism around physical appearance, shame regarding weight gain, insecurity with what society tells us how someone in 'X' profession should look like, etc.
7. Is there a voice that seems to be on repeat in your brain?
This audio-loop shows up in all occasions, even when you have not invited it! You don't feel like you have control over these thoughts and sometimes they are so loud that you can't even decide whether they stay or go.
8. Is the voice telling you the same story over and over?
We are story-telling people and the inner critic can take over and tell us the same narrative about ourselves over and over again, masking our ability to create a more healthy narrative.
9. Is the voice persistent, even though you know it is irrational?
You can tell others why this voice isn't worth listening to, why it doesn't have your best in mind, and why you should still do 'x', 'y', and 'z', but it is still there.
10. Does the voice shame you for having the critical thoughts in the first place, even though the thoughts are coming from the voice?
It's like being offered a piece of cake from someone, but then being shamed by that same person for accepting the cake, eating it, and enjoying it. Tara Mohr calls this the "one-two punch".
11. Does the voice look up to other critical people for inspiration?
Your inner critic may be influenced by the critical voices of actual people, such as your parents, teachers, religion, or boss.
It is really important to identify and name the inner critic for what it is, as it wants to slink into the background un-noticed and un-questioned. However, the mere act of seeing it and calling it out is a powerful first step towards dragging it to the centre and putting in its proper spot.
What is the antidote to the inner critic? According to Mohr, realistic thinking! This is thinking that pushes the situation forward instead of making it go in circles or stay in a rut. It asks inquisitive questions that offers insight into the intricacies of a situation, and is comfortable with the grey and 'in between'. Although it seeks solutions, it is also open to new information and gathers evidence along the way. It comes from a place of inherent value and self-support.
Action move: Take some time today to become acquainted with the voices that inform your decisions and sense of what you can or cannot do in the world. Are they voices of condemnation and inner criticism? If so, what types of realistic thinking do you need to embrace? What is a small step towards doing this?