The inner critic is an interesting---and at times can be a debilitating---phenomenon. There are so many wiley, twisty, turny ways it shows up in our lives that sometimes it’s hard to recognize it for what it is---criticism instead of realistic thinking.
For clarity---because I’m still getting clear about all this myself---I’m going to forgo a lengthy story and simply ask some questions.
What is the inner critic?
Our IC is that nagging, harsh, oftentimes mean voice in our heads that literally and figuratively “puts us in our place.”
For me, it shows up saying this like: you can’t do that because of X; you aren’t good at business/managing money/etc.; get real; people don’t even really like you, and on and on. It’s vicious!
My IC can also be: very black and white (it can only happen this way, or no way), the voice of reason (let’s hold off on this until you get more training/certification/understanding. You don’t want others to think you’re strange or anything) a tape recording (something that just plays automatically in the background consisting of negative, harsh thoughts which seem to just turn on instead of me consciously authoring them) a broken record (the same old, same old lines...over and over and over…) irrational but persistent (yep, I KNOW these thoughts are irrational but they can still paralyze me in my tracks) takes inspiration from people in my life (my inner critic sounds a lot like my mother, but it can also take the form of my husband and an old ballet teacher I had as a girl)
But, isn’t that voice just realistic thinking?
No. Let me explain. When we want to do something bold, brave and quickly----something definitely out of our comfort zone----does someone who’s telling you how terrible you are, motivate you to take those positive actions with enjoyment and greater ease? Would that same critical voice be a motivation to pursue your callings? Nope.
Here’s a quote from the lovely Tara Mohr, whose class I’m in right now called Playing Big. This quote is from her same titled book:
“The realistic thinker in us is forward-moving. She seeks solutions. The critic will spin and spin, ruminating on the risks and worst-case scenarios. The critic often speaks in an anxious, emotionally charged tone. The realistic thinker is grounded, clear-eyed, calm. Many of us hold the belief that “realistic thinking” is skeptical if not pessimistic, but in fact realistic thinking is inquisitive, exploratory, and highly creative.”
What is the point of the inner critic?
Believe it or not, the inner critic’s main goal is to keep us safe. Sure, it’s twisted, but it is an old evolutionary tool that saved us from all of us being eaten by tigers at once. Rawr.
The fact that it’s still around, and we believe that it’s a part of WHO WE ARE, just goes to show the intense power of some of these early safety mechanisms our human brains evolved and used to survive.
The thing is, our IC is not who we are. It’s just an aspect. An aspect that doesn’t need to drive our lives. This is amazing news!
Our inner critic will show up especially when we are stretching in new ways. It tends to get even more vicious when we’re on the brink of a breakthrough---about to chart new territory or fulfill a dream.
If your inner critic were a character, who would they be?
Since my inner critic vacillates between various voices, but most often comes up as my mother, it was extremely helpful to create a character to personify my IC.
Let me just emphasize the PROFOUNDness of realizing that my IC was not, in fact, a defective part of myself, my mother or anyone else I loved. It was just the critical voice in my head trying to save my behind from....who knows what at the time. Danger! Trying new things is not allowed! Etc, etc, etc.
By creating a character, it has helped me realize that this is simply a voice within, not the whole of me. Or the real me. That was powerful to learn.
My Inner Critic's Story
My inner critic’s name is Ms. Marge. She’s an older woman who has much life experience under her belt. She looks like she might be someone who would give good advice---the grandmotherly sort. She’s not overdone, doesn’t dress particularly well---mainly in bad, earth toned neutrals---and is soft around the middle. She has smile lines but also deep creases in her forehead from worry and strain. She’s had a difficult life and doesn’t believe that anyone can actually do what they want, have what they want or be what they want. She believes that everything just happens to us and we are ultimately not in control. Instead of learning from her life experience, she has become a victim. On and on she will tell you what NOT to do, where NOT to go and there’s always an ever present “I told you so” waiting to roll of her lips.
Ms. Marge likes to pretend that she knows what she’s talking about, too. She’ll make things up right on the spot---it’s hilarious if you actually listen to her! She prides herself on “knowing” a lot of things and being able to talk about a lot of things, but never in real depth. It’s more just a way to get her voice heard over the crowd, to feel important. She thinks feeling important is the only way you can fit in or really be a part of anything---being important to her means acceptance. It seems like that would be a lot of work!
Ms. Marge is only trying to help me not experience the pain and frustration she has felt throughout her life. It’s noble of her, but misplaced.
Ms. Marge will be a part of my life for the rest of my life, so I am working on finding compassion for her story and situation----and taking her advice with a grain of salt.
“It’s okay, Ms. Marge. Everything’s going to be okay. I’ve got this.”
My inner critic, or Ms. Marge, gets especially loud when I’m about to have a major breakthrough. It’s confusing and frustrating, but also quite liberating.
Just doing this work---exploring her and personifying her---has made me completely freak out. It’s been hard, but as far as I can see, worth it. I’m starting to see the illusions that have been created by her and how I’ve believed them most of my adult life.
It’s only now I’m beginning to muster the courage to live beyond her stifling rules and misconceptions. It’s hard because not only have I believed them for so long---thinking that this was just how I was, but it’s also comfortable because it’s all I’ve known.
Next steps are pushing through the discomfort and getting to the heart of things. Then, finding compassion for myself in this struggle as well as for Ms. Marge. We’re both reluctant to change, but only one of us is capable and willing.