Taming Your Inner Critic

by Bonnie Weiss, LCSW

Marlene is overdue for a promotion. She knows that she should talk to her boss, but can’t get up the courage. A voice inside her head keeps reminding her of her failings and limitations; it tells her that the discussion will end with her being chided and shamed.

Jamie is obsessed with men who reject her. She spends her evenings waiting by the phone for George to call even though she knows he isn’t a good match for her. She hopes that he will accept her and this will quiet her self-hatred.

We are all aware of that nattering little voice inside that tells us we are deficient and reminds us of our failures. Sometimes we hear a voice that warns us not to think too big, reach too high, or be too confident. The Inner Critic subpersonality is a result of our experience and conditioning. It holds the remnants of our parent’s hopes and fears for us and for themselves, our school history, our religious upbringing, and the competitive culture that we live in.

When you get to know your Inner Critic from an open, curious place, you will be amazed to find out that its underlying motivation is actually to protect you. It feels so awful to hear those negative words and those constraining warnings that this may be hard to believe. Yet it is trying to protect fragile parts of your personality that have been injured in the past. At the core of this yammering is a wish for you to be safe and free of disappointment and humiliation.

The Critic has old ideas about you, and carries antiquated images of who you are and the capacities you have. Like an adult going to work in a toddler’s jumper, its view of you is outdated and doesn’t fit your current life situation, skills, or experience. So its efforts to protect you cause you to doubt yourself and feel deflated and deficient.

Here is a three step process for handling your Inner Critic:

Step 1: Separate. It’s just a part.
It’s a big step to realize that this voice is just a part of you that has its own motivations and world view. That means that you can separate from that part and get some distance from it. You can choose to listen or not listen. You can take control by telling it to “back off” or by deciding to be interested in its underlying intent, rather than being intimidated by its negative prattling. Separation means being grounded in your higher Self. This process is supported by meditative and spiritual practices and good self care.

Step 2: Update. Bring the part into this century.
Once you make contact with this critical part and begin a dialogue with it, you can ask it how old it thinks you are. Most often you will discover that this part still thinks you are a small child in a challenging situation. Its vehement efforts to protect you from re-injury and repeated humiliation are bound by beliefs that were developed at that time. By showing this part who you actually are today, the capacities you have developed, the experience you have gained, and the freedom you enjoy, it is more able to let go of its outmoded  fears and concerns.

Step 3:  Mentor. Develop an Inner Champion.
You can create a positive, supportive aspect of yourself which I call the Inner Champion. It will guide you in your work with your Inner Critic and develop your positive capacities in your life. Itcan be drawn from positive experiences and reflections you have had in the past or inspiration from mythology, literature or modern culture. Mine has qualities of Katharine Hepburn, Margaret Mead, Jean Houston and Quan Yin. The role of the Inner Champion is to bolster your strength. It is there to love and support as you move toward your personal goals.

The Inner Champion:

  1. Sounds like the voice of a good mom that reminds you of your value and capabilities. It encourages you to take reasonable risks to gain what you desire and deserve.
  2. Has the courage to take a stand when necessary with the Inner Critic and tell it to leave you alone. When my Critic bugs me, my Inner Mentor can look it in the eye and say. “That is NOT helpful!.” or “This is not a good time!”.
  3. Helps you develop a step-by-step plan for achieving what you want.
  4. Provides nurturance and care for the fragile parts of us that are ultimately being protected by the Inner Critic.

Return to the Inner Critic Section