Maybe everyone thinks that. I know that I am quite a critical person in general, but when it comes to myself, the bar suddenly gets higher.
I was always of the idea that having an inner critic was good, that it helps you and urges you to be better, and overall, it speaks about the level of greatness you aspire to.
Now, I am not so sure. A tough teacher may help you push your boundaries, but there is a certain level when maybe it’s too much, and the damage to one’s thrive may be more of an anchor than the wind to fly up high.
A couple of weeks ago I started reading a book that I would highly recommend to anyone, but particularly to women. It is called “Playing Big”, by Tara Mohr, and she dedicates a whole chapter to the inner critic, which I found profoundly inspiring, and a great mirror into my own.
At the end of her analysis, she proposes a couple of exercises, with the porpoise of identifying and isolating the inner critic from the other voices in our head, and knowing how to manage this strong personality.
The first thing was very simple, grab a pen and paper (ok, let’s be honest a keyboard and some sort of screen) and without thinking too much, say what you critic usually tells you. I thought not overthinking this one was going to be hard, but just like this, the moment I started writing it came pouring down. I wrote like 20 sentences. Let me share just a couple of ones with you. I say to myself… well, no, actually, my inner critic says to me (*):
- You are not an interesting person
- You are boring,
- You have nothing to say,
- You are too fat
- Guys are not attracted to you
- You have no new ideas
- You can’t finish anything
- You are mediocre
- You will die alone, no one will ever love you.
Ouch, no? Precisely the next point was to read what you had just put on paper, and qualify it, think which adjectives described the narrative of these messages. The first word that came to my mind was cruel. Reading those things, made me think that they were a bit too much. They almost felt strange and an exaggeration, yet those are the things I have been hearing inside here for the last … hmm? 20 years? (…Thinking that I was probably not too fuss about this at 9.)
In case you are now looking to try this exercise yourself, let me guide you through the next two steps:
#3 Give it a personality: This is quite fun. Give your inner critic a face, imagine how she looks, where she lives and even name her. Mine for example is called Edna, she reminds me of a mixture from someone in my childhood and Edna Mode from the Incredibles movie. (hence the naming)
Being able to see her as a different individual, almost turns the inner critic into a caricature, which makes anything she may say a bit lighter. See if that is the case with you…
#4 Understand her/him: There is no point on fighting her, or trying to forcefully shut her down. When she speaks up, it is almost like a kid having a tantrum. The best thing that you can do is ask yourself why does she say that, why is she so afraid of what we are about to do. Then thank her. Not ironically, but truly thank her for trying to look out for you. Yet, when she shows up, tell her “I’ve got this, don’t worry”.
If you find that your Inner critic is as loud as mine, I highly recommend you do this exercise (even better, read the book). The other day she was speaking up loudly, so I stopped for a second to hear her, and realise it was just the fear of what I was about to do. So, I thank her and let her go back to her corner. It felt amazing! It was such a powerful move, and it allowed me to enjoy what I did next so much more.
I am now certain that it is very important to understand our inner critic as only one part of ourselves, because otherwise that voice may become too strong, and trump over all those other versions of yourself that encourage you… and, in the end… If we can’t encourage ourselves… who will?
Listen to your inner critic, but don’t ever let her bring you down or stop you from doing anything you want.
Post script thoughts:
As I write this, I wonder if any men have such cruel inner critics? And I don’t say this as if to mean that I don’t think they do… I just really don’t know, and am terribly curious. Do women have bigger inner critics because of the oppression we have experienced over the centuries, or maybe men are just as bad, but we either don’t know, or they have found the inner tools to deal with it. If you are a guy reading this, I would love to hear you, and if you have it, your inner critic.
(*) Note this difference, because if it’s us talking like this to ourselves, that is just even more hurtful. However, if we ca separate it as just one of the parts within us, we can then listen to the other ones, like that one that tells you “damn, you look fine today!” every now and then.