Do You Think Your Inner Critic is a Gremlin? Think Again.

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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.

I’ve tried calling my inner critic names, laughing it off as my inner gremlin or mean girl, or labelling it as a monster—something inside me that needs to be fixed. I’ve tried ignoring it, telling it to shut up, telling it to go away. But none of those things helped. My inner critic can always out-shout, out-argue and out-manoeuvre me.

Much conventional advice about how to deal with the inner critic says the name-calling/ignoring/fight back approach is the way to go. Perhaps you’ve tried this, and it hasn’t worked. Perhaps it works to a degree but talking to a part of yourself like this doesn’t quite sit right with you. If this is the case that’s for a good reason. In this post, I want to introduce the idea that your inner critic isn’t the monster it might appear to be.

We all know that the foundation of all good relationships is respect. I don’t like it when someone calls me names or tells me to shut up, so why would I expect that to work with my inner critics? If someone is doing this to me, is it going to help if I call them names and tell them to shut up back? No! It’s just going to make things worse and escalate the situation.

Taking this perspective helped me realize: I won’t change my relationship with my inner critics by descending to their level. Instead, I’d much rather invite my critics to rise to meet me and model what the right way to interact looks like.Whatever form your inner critic takes (and whatever the specifics of what it says) its overarching purpose is to keep you in line with your “rules for living”. Its job is to sound the alarm whenever there’s a chance you might do something that contravenes these rules and stop you in our tracks before you act in a way that breaks them. When you look at the inner critic in this context – that it’s trying to keep you in check with the rules you developed to survive – you can see its purpose from a different angle altogether.

Inner Critics Need Hugs Too

Even when it leaves us feeling miserable, the inner critic is trying to protect us. It might not be going about it in the most constructive or helpful way, the rules its upholding might be outdated, and it is almost certainly working to scripts that are no longer helpful, but its modus operandi is self-protection. As I’ve become more aware of my thoughts, feelings and beliefs, I’ve discovered that most of my fears and hang-ups come back to two roots: the fear of not being good enough and the fear of being unlovable. The inner critic’s fears and hang-ups are no different.

In considering where the Inner Critic came from, always keep in mind that the Inner Critic’s original function is to spare us shame and pain.
— Hal and Sidra Stone, Embracing the Inner Critic

This is why my inner critic is most likely to show up when I’m doing something that takes me outside my comfort zone. Like the time I interviewed for a job I wanted and was still awake at 2 a.m. the morning after, deconstructing everything I should have said and second-guessing myself. Or the time I got my first writing client and avoided their emails for days, paralysed with fear about what would happen if they didn’t like my work. Or the countless times I’ve been in a social situation with opportunities to connect with new people yet haven’t felt able to speak up for fear of those people judging me.

These are just some of the (many) examples of how my inner critic has shaped the way I respond to situations outside my comfort zone. I’m sure you can think of your own. Going for a promotion, asking someone out, moving to (or even visiting) a new place, trying that new hobby you’ve always wanted to try; whether the situation is seemingly trivial or life-changing, your inner critic is always there trying to keep you in your safe zone and deter you from doing anything that feels risky, leaves you vulnerable or breaks your internalized rules for life.

Our inner critics sound scary, but in reality they are scared.

Our choice is: do we live a life ruled by fear? Or do we take back the reigns, decide what matters most to us (love, integrity, honesty, justice, creativity, etc.) and enjoy a life fully-lived? 

Photo by Clarence E. Hsu on Unsplash