Are you ever hijacked by a critical voice inside your head that finds fault with your work, your communication, how fast you get things done, your appearance, or any number of other things about you? A voice that’s never satisfied with anything? You’re not alone! Many perfectly capable, successful, and wonderful human beings are susceptible to an inner critic who berates them regularly for not measuring up in myriad ways.
But here’s the good news. There are ways to protect yourself from being thrown off course by this dynamic. You can learn to set a boundary with yourself: you just don’t allow yourself to be harmed by this voice.
Imagine that your brain contains a committee of voices, your very own idiosyncratic, personalized committee of voices that knows where you’re particularly vulnerable, knows what your hopes and dreams are, and seems to know all your insecurities. We all have a committee in there. And when we hear from the critical voices, we hear them as if they were speaking The Truth. But that’s just a bad habit. Your committee is just a random group of voices picked up from here and there over the course of your life . . . your mean second grad teacher, your Great-Uncle Howard, some author you read as a college student . . . you get the idea. There’s really no REASON to take their pronouncements at The Truth.
According to Tara Mohr, in her extraordinary book, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, not having good defenses against the Inner Critic is one of the classic obstacles to women’s reaching the level of success (of any type) they aspire to. She devotes a whole chapter to the Inner Critic, examining its detrimental impact, the groundlessness of its content, and its seeming universality. More important, she identifies 9 different tactics that can be used to protect oneself from the Inner Critic. She also offers some examples of what’s NOT effective in disarming it. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!
I want to offer two favorite tactics of my own for disarming the critical voices:
- One is to think of them as the mean Muppets in the balcony. Say to yourself, “This is just mean-spirited nonsense, and I’m not going to let it in.” Just consider it a boundary: that kind of talk is neither true nor useful, and you’re not going to allow it to touch your sense of yourself.
- Another one (hands down, my clients’ favorite) is to hear yourself responding to them in your own voice, “Thank you for sharing.” And follow that with, “That’s your opinion, but I’m not buying it, thank you very much. I see it differently.” Period. Don’t engage, don’t get into an argument. Just move on. The beauty of this tactic is that when you’re alone, you can actually say “Thank you for sharing” out loud, which is very powerful and often kind of fun! Next time you can’t say it out loud, you can remember the sound of your own voice saying these words, which you might enjoy!
The task at hand here is to try out these tactics — mine or Tara Roth’s or someone else’s — and find out what works for you. The more you can free yourself from the needless oppression of the Inner Critic, the more fulfilling and satisfying your life will be.
Photo by Callum Wale on Unsplash