4 Lies Your Inner Critic Tells You (and the Truth Behind Them)
This post is adapted from my new book ‘The Power of Self-Kindness: How to Transform Your Relationship With Your Inner Critic,’ which is out now! To find out more and start healing your relationship with your inner critic and yourself, click here.
One of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of my inner critic is that sometimes I’m not even aware it’s my critic that’s talking. Our critics are masters at coming up with different ways of being heard and attempting to maintain control over our lives. In this post, I’m sharing four of the most common lies you might hear from your inner critics.
1. You’ll Be Good Enough When . . .
The “you’ll be good enough when . . . [you lose 10lbs/get that promotion/can afford that car/get that degree/etc.]” mantra is pernicious and can appear in several guises. One of these is “when . . . then . . .” thinking. For example, “When I get that job, then I’ll feel successful/When I have a partner, then I’ll feel happy/When I buy that dress I saw online, then I’ll feel beautiful.” The tricky thing about this thought pattern is that it doesn’t always sound like a criticism. In fact, sometimes, it sounds more like “Yeah, go you! You get that job! You find that partner! You buy that dress!”
The problem with the meaning underlying all of the above, is that it tells you, “You are not good enough as you are.” Well, hello there, inner critic.
Here’s the truth: You will never be good enough for your inner critic.
This doesn’t mean you will never be good enough, period. Good enough is subjective and part of transforming your relationship with your inner critic is taking back the reins and deciding for yourself what “good enough” means to you, rather than leaving it up to the frightened, out-of-control, unreasonable voice in your head.
I’ve found “good enough” is a shifting bar that changes depending on the day, what is happening in my life, my energy levels, my emotions and many more factors. It isn’t set in stone; it’s an agreement I make with myself.
2. Without Me, You’ll Never Get Anywhere
In last week's post, I talked about the different types of inner critic. One of mine I call 'my inner taskmaster.' My inner taskmaster tells me I need to work harder, faster, and better. It says I don’t do enough, and maybe if I did more my inner critic would disappear and I’d finally feel good enough. (Notice how many of these inner critic messages thread together?) It also comes up with countless variations on lie number two: you need me to push you; without me, you’d sit on your behind watching Netflix and eating Ben & Jerry’s all day.
If you have a similar inner voice, it’s worth remembering: of course your inner critic will tell you that you need it! After all, you're doing all these things, coming up with all these big ideas and daring to dream all these big dreams every single day that send it into a flurry of panic and fear. This isn’t your fault; it’s your place to do, think and dream big. But, as I explain in the book, your inner critic thinks it needs to protect you and keep you small.
It’s also important to remember the mantra: Just because your inner critic says it, doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, if your inner critic says it, it’s almost certainly not true.
3. Only You Struggle With This/Feel This Way
If your inner critic were a person walking around and speaking to you like it does in the real world, you would likely describe that person as abusive. And trying to make out you’re the only one who is crazy/weird/stupid/ridiculous/whatever enough to feel this way or struggle with whatever your struggling with is one of the oldest tricks in the abuser book.
Something that helped me question this story was remembering that even the most challenging and uncomfortable experiences I have are far more common than I might think. When I’m having a bad day, I make a mistake or my inner critic is running wild, it’s tempting to look at other people with their successful lives, beaming smiles, and peppy social media updates, and think I am the only one in the whole wide world experiencing this right now. But that’s my inner critic talking.
In her book, Self-Compassion, Kristen Neff explains that the Latin root of the word compassion means “suffering with”, and that these darker, more uncomfortable aspects of the human experience are threads that connect you and I to everyone else in the world. Even if the external situations around us differ wildly, our feelings, fears, hopes and dreams are things we share with others and the things that connect us all. If we’re willing to bring them to light, they can bring us closer together too.
4. You Must Be Special/Fit In
Which one your inner critic goes for will depend on your culture and upbringing. If you live in a culture like the USA, it’s the former. In other cultures (such as some European cultures), you’re more likely to experience tall poppy syndrome (where people perceived as superior are more likely to be resented, criticized and cut down). Standing out is discouraged and criticized.
Being ordinary is more than okay – some of your most special and meaningful life experiences will come out of “ordinary” moments and daily life. But if you have big things – goals and dreams – that’s fine too. As long as they are motivated by what you want, not by needing to feel special, good enough, because of FOMO or because of any other negative-rooted, striving-based reason.
Which of these statements do you recognise from your inner critic? Are there any others you'd add to the list? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.