One of the biggest obstacles we have to learning and growth is our inner critic.
We all have it. And if you don’t keep it in control it can make you feel like you aren’t present, or drown out the sound of what you are trying to learn.
What is your inner critic?
The inner critic is basically is the observer inside us that is all about control, keeping us in line, and keeping us moving in a certain way.
It begins developing in us around the age of 2. For example, young children cannot understand the difference between anger and a lack of love. If a child does something that causes the parents to be angry, the child may think that certain behaviors causes their parents to love them less.
“If I scream, my parents won’t love me.”
This is where we begin to develop our inner critic. We develop this inner critic more and more over time. By the time we are adults, we have millions of messages about what makes us acceptable, attractive, intelligent, and so on. These come from interactions with our parents, at school, and at work.
The inner critic is not all bad
Now I’m not saying your inner critic is all bad. Without it, we wouldn’t be socialized. We wouldn’t know that it’s wrong to physically attack someone when they make your mad or steal something that you want in the store. There is a place for your inner critic.
But our inner critic still treats us like we are 2 years old. It’s important, but we can’t let it rule the show. If we don’t keep our inner critic in control, it can diminish our self worth and keep us from learning.
Awareness of your inner critic
You can’t do battle if you don’t know you are under attack. About 70 percent of mastering your inner critic comes down to detection. The first thing you must do to defend against your inner critic is to recognize what kind of attack it is.
There are two ways that your inner critic attacks:
There are times when we are faced with failures, challenges, or even opportunities, when we hear a voice inside us saying, “You’re stupid,” or “you can’t do it,” or “you are fat.”
These are an indication that you are under direct attack from your inner critic.
Imagine you are in a meeting and you have a suggestion you truly believe would help the team. But your inner critic comes in and reminds you of a time your idea failed. It tells you that your ideas aren’t good enough to contribute value to the team.
You don’t have to succumb to this attack. You can speak internally to your inner critic as you would speak to a bully. Imagine yourself standing up to them. You can say things like, “You can’t speak to me that way,” “Back off,” “I have a right to my feelings,” or “There is nothing wrong with me.”
Imagine you have just checked off a big, challenging project at work, and you feel a great sense of satisfaction. But all of the sudden, you hear one of your coworkers talking about the multiple projects they’ve finished that day, and it brings you down. It diminishes your success in your mind.
This is your inner critic bringing you down by means of comparing yourself to others.
How to defend against your inner critic
Recognize and name the attack
In order to defend an attack, it’s so important that you notice and name the attack. This way, you separate yourself from your inner critic. This distinction alone will create distance between you and the attack.
Take a breath
Stop and breath when you feel you are under attack. Meditation can dispel some of the attack.
It also helps if you can find people you trust that you can speak to about this. Your inner critic likes to get you in a dark corner, because you are most vulnerable when you are alone.
Understand how you respond
Keep yourself conscious. You need to understand how the inner critic manifests itself within you. Ask yourself, “When my inner critic attacks: do I withdraw? do I attack myself? do I drink alcohol, eat, smoke, or gamble?” Recognize the attack when you feel it, and guard yourself from instinctive responses.
You can fight back against your inner critic
The inner critic is just like any sickness. The quicker you diagnose it, the quicker you can do something about it.
Use practices like meditation and mindfulness to stay aware of your inner critic. Detect attacks early and do your best to stop automatic responses.