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How to Spot Your Inner Critic

Why is it that when we’re totally qualified for a job, totally right for a project, or totally entitled to a big dream, we feel the need to throw in the caveat, “Or, maybe not.”

I’m working with a new client who deserves the job for which he is applying–120%.

Yet still, the voice comes through, as it does in all of us, “Maybe I’m not that good.”

Welcome to the world of the Inner Critic. This is the codified voice within you that lives to point out your flaws. He/she/they might sound like your mother, like Uncle Harry, like Mrs. Zinsmaster, your third-grade teacher, like your husband or partner (I hope not!), or like a conglomerate of all the many voices that have tried to tell you that you’re not ok.

My Inner Critic always remembers, and is ready to remind me, that Billy Johnson thought my nose was funny in second grade. Mrs. Flatfoot (can’t remember the name,) told me that my voice stood out in our school chorus and not in a good way. Mr. Cosgood gave me a “B” in my 3rd-grade art class, which is when I stopped drawing. my Mother told me that I was selfish and my table manners were terrible (dooming me for life)…and, and, and, get the drift.

Combine all the voices and you create a stealth agent who spies on you from within your brain. Unfortunately, you have probably divulged to him all of the secret data that only you could know, including every way that you failed to meet an intention, stopped short on a project, didn’t meet a deadline, gave up prematurely on a dream you had, or mopped the kitchen in a rather sloppy way.

Your Critic lives in your imagination, where, if on a loose leash, he could (occasionally) be a helpful friend. There are times when you might want to hear, “How might I do better?” or “What are all the possible ways I could screw this up?” (so that you don’t).

You might suggest to your Critic that appreciation often works better than judgment, and, if he sincerely wants to help, he should get down from your shoulder and stop heaving banana peels for you to slip on.

Put your Critic into training with the rest of your pets. You wouldn’t let your new puppy play in the living room before he was housebroken, right? So why do you let your Critic poop on your path?

How to spot the words of the Inner Critic

It’s time to take action to beat the Critic at his game. Learn to recognize his language and the way he sneaks his phrases into your head.

“You see? I told you.” (Putting a hex on a project is not informational.)

“This will NEVER work out.” (It might not work out, but the word NEVER is a sure sign of the Critic’s handiwork, He is the MASTER of over-generalizations.)

“You always screw up.” (See above. You do screw up. But only sometimes.)

“Nobody likes you. Nobody will want your art/book/song/contribution. (Are you getting the drift that gross generalizations are a sure-fire sign?)

“Everybody hates you.” (See above.)

“If you do this, then”… (Insert terrible, but over-dramatized consequence.)

“Who do you think you are?” (An intelligent, good-hearted, flawed human being?)

“It’s no use.” “It’s hopeless.” (Fill in any kind of immobilizing despair.)

“It doesn’t matter. The world is screwed anyway.” (The world does have a particularly high rate of challenges these days, which is why it DOES matter.)

‘Save it for the next generation to handle.” (Nasty, nasty. The Critic knows you can’t fix the environment, but forgets that you have wisdom and resources that could support the younger generations.)

“Those people are…(some variation of) bad.” “Politicians are…(some bigger variation) of bad.” “Corporations are… (some jumbo version) of bad.”  (All of the preceding groups may have faults, sometimes egregious, but they may also have the occasional good points which you will never be able to see from the Critic’s perspective.)

“You can’t trust….(someone you barely know.)” (The Critic starts from distrust and proceeds from there.)

“It’s foolish to dream/hope/try at your age.” (Well, frankly, what other age do you have?)

When you’ve been attacked by the Critic, there are many phrases you can use. But your three superpowers for taming him are:

  1. Laughter.
  2. Appreciation.
  3. Love.

The Critic HATES these.

Which is why I suggest appreciating your Critic. He might be trying to help. Thank him for his contribution. Laugh a little with him. Give him a hug.

Then tell him to shut up.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Sally,

    I missed you. But I understand.

    I enjoyed reading your blog. “Inner Critic” can be general people around you. When I was a little girl, my mother always praised me and other two sisters, whatever we wore, we looked good. Instead of negative comments, positive comments (praises) are so helpful for mental and spiritual growth of children. We all have been very relaxed whatever we dress up with. We are not fussy at all, we are happy. We never had inner critic when it becomes what to wear, because my mother’s positive comments.

    1. I miss our classes so much, Nobuko. You were so fortunate not to grow up with a clinic. No wonder you have been able to be so positive teaching Ikebana to beginning students. You have a gift!

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