Somewhere in the growing up process we learn to criticize ourselves, to be hard on ourselves, and to even berate ourselves. Some do it less, some more—but unless your parents were perfect, it’s likely you developed what has been called your “inner critic.”
One minute you’re feeling proud of yourself and brimming with confidence and later in the day you realize you’re confidence had disappeared. What happened? Your inner critic took over and blew your confidence up. It can happen to the best of us. What can you do?
Of course, you can argue and fight with your inner critic. Or you could ignore it and pretend it isn’t there. However, if you’ve tried these tactics you know they don’t work very well. Here’s what to do instead:
Know where your inner critic came from
Our inner critic, that voice inside saying, “I knew I would fail—why did I even put myself out there?!” might have come from your parents, your teachers, your sports coach in school, your religious upbringing, your friends or siblings. The point is you had to learn how to criticize yourself—it’s not wired in. I have three grand-daughters and the oldest just turned two. I don’t hear them putting themselves down. Children have to learn how to do that.
Thank your inner critic
My past experience as a psychotherapist and my ten years as a coach have taught me that all our behavior has a positive intent behind it. I’m not saying all our behaviors are positive. The consequences of some of our behaviors might not be positive—but the intent is. For instance, when we procrastinate, what’s the positive intent there? One positive intent might be to stay comfortable and avoid what we don’t want to deal with.
Your inner critic is trying to help you. Sure, it’s misguided help and you might feel, “With friends like that who needs enemies?”—but think about it. If your inner critic is trying to help you, that means you can build a partnership and eventually a friendship with that aspect of yourself. Begin by having a conversation with your inner critic. If that sounds crazy, it’s not.
We talk to ourselves all day long. So talk to your inner critic—begin by thanking it for doing the best it can to help you. (Wouldn’t that be better than continuing to criticize yourself?) Get to know what your inner critic is thinking and how it’s trying to help you. How do you do that? Ask.
Listen. Be patient. Ask more questions. When the timing is good, ask your inner critic if it would be open to considering more effective ways to help you other than criticizing, blaming and judging you. Keep the conversation going, say thank you and then continue to talk to your inner critic over the next few weeks and months. Just avoid the temptation of criticizing your inner critic and you’ll do fine.
Get objective feedback
When you’re not feeling confident with yourself or when you’re angry with yourself, you lose your objectivity. That’s when it’s a good time to confide in someone you trust and tell them what your inner critic has been saying. Someone with outside perspective can help you help your inner critic shift its perspective and be more optimistic and solution-focused.
One thing is for sure: Your inner critic isn’t objective. It’s good at pointing out all the obstacles to your goal but it isn’t so good at building your confidence. Your inner critic needs help. It needs outside perspective. That’s what friends, mentors and coaches are for, so use them. Over time your inner critic will learn to be less critical and more affirming.