For many women leaders the Inner Critic is often around to a greater or lesser extent but what I’m noticing whilst we are in lockdown is that for many of my clients she’s on steroids right now.!
She is turning up on a daily basis and has a lot to say at the moment….
She might sound like:
“you never get everything done”
” you really are not a good mum”
“why didn’t you?”
” you should be able to teach your children that!”
“call yourself a businesswoman? huh!”
“you should just give up”
“what’s wrong with you?”
“why can’t you get it right?”
and there are lots more….
She’s the voice of the persistent negative self-talk that keeps us stuck.
We all have one —that inner voice that criticises you, that disapproves of what you do, that gets frustrated by the actions you take. She runs a negative internal commentary on who you are and how you behave.The words she says, how strong she is and how often she pops up are different for all of us.
She can cause you to doubt yourself and she undermines your self-confidence. She might even be harsh enough to be debilitating.
The Inner Critic is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. Usually she is repeating things that were said to you by parents, family members, friends, teachers, peers etc. when you were young. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others.
When we fail to identify and separate from this Inner Critic, we allow it to impact our behaviour and shape the direction of our lives. It may sabotage our successes or our relationships, preventing us from living the lives we want to lead and becoming the people we seek to be.
The Inner Critic’s self-talk tends to fall into one of two categories, “bad self” and “weak self.”
Bad self is shame-based. Those who struggle with this aspect might feel unlovable, flawed, undesirable, inferior. Shame and self-criticism keep us from doing the things we need to take care of ourselves and ultimately find comfort, connection and motivation.
Weak self is based on fear and anxiety. Those who experience this form might feel dependent on others or submissive, unable to express emotions without something bad happening, feel vulnerable, are worried about loss of control, mistrustful, isolated, deprived, or abandoned.
We all have an Inner Critic, but not all of us let it run riot.
You can think of your Inner Critic as a force that pushes against you as you try to go about your day.
She grows more powerful the more she goes unchecked. When you accept her as part of you and decide where she’s useful and where she’s not frees up your energy to go where you need it most.
Awareness is the first step to recognizing and letting go of your Inner Critic. Many of us don’t even realize her presence. Catch yourself the next time you’re aware of feeling anxious, distracted or numb. Identify the voice of your Inner Critic.
Your Inner Critic needs a new job and you can help her by feeding her positive content. Pretty soon life will look better, you’ll feel better and you’ll get better results.
First of all notice what’s happening when she shows up.
What triggers her? How often does she show up for you?
What kinds of things does she tend to say to you? What do you feel when she appears?
How do those feelings affect you?
How does she hold you back?What does she stop you from doing?
The point is awareness and limiting the havoc your Inner Critic can wreck on your well-being through conscious healthy use.
What are some self-criticisms that you are aware of hearing yourself say?
Write them down in the second person (as “you” statements). For example, a thought like “I can’t get anything right. I’ll never be successful” should be written as “You can’t get anything right. You’ll never be successful.”
How do you feel as you hear that? Get in touch with that feeling. What are you afraid of or afraid of feeling?
Allow yourself space to dig deeper and find your most vulnerable feelings about the situation. This is what the Inner Critic is protecting you from feeling. Acknowledge that this thought process is separate from your real point of view. Remember that your Inner Critic is not a reflection of reality.
Her purpose is to keep you safe from rejections and hurt. She wants you to be your best self and she’s not going away so make friends with her.
Give your inner critic a name, a colour, dress her. Give her a silly voice. Create a funny cartoon character or sock puppet to represent her and then have a conversation with her-
“What are you so worried about?” “Why does all that stuff worry you so much?” then when you hear the intention behind her rant say “I hear you, thank you for your concern but it’s ok”. In this way she becomes a more helpful buddy and you can take on the helpful bit and ignore the rest.
All too often we only look at the things that went wrong and those become the objects of focus for the Inner Critic. Create a gratitude journal and reflect on what went well. Notice what is working for you.
Treat yourself as your best friend would treat you. When we aren’t ready or able to extend compassion to ourselves, it’s often helpful to imagine what our best friend would say to us. You could do this informally by just envisioning the loving, forgiving, and gentle words of your best friend countering the Inner Critic or write them down so that you can go back and read them whenever you feel the need.
Until next time,
For more information here are some further resources for you:
What is the Critical Inner Voice? PsychAlive