Updated: Jul 13
We all have an inner voice; it can sometimes whisper sweet nothings and can sometimes hurl hurtful insults our way. The harsh voice is our inner critic. If you're anything like me, that critic has said things along these lines:
- you're not good enough
- you could stand to lose a few pounds
- ooooh, that mistake was a biggie; how will you ever recover from that one?
- you're doomed to fail
- you don't know enough yet; no one will trust you
It can be a constant source of negativity; if we're not careful, it can hold us back. It can keep us in FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) spiral.
Understanding our Inner Critic
This lovely creature is part of our subconscious, analyzing our actions and behaviors with a critical and judgmental tone... fun, huh?! Not so much. From this point on, I will refer to that inner critic as our Judge (the master Saboteur).
According to the Positive Intelligence® model, our Judge forms during childhood, specifically between the ages of 3 and 8. During this time, our brains are highly malleable, and we are learning about the world and ourselves at a rapid pace. Our experiences during this period, including how parents, teachers, and peers treat us, can shape our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities. As we navigate the world, we determine what we need to tell ourselves to stay safe.
For example, during my primary and secondary school years, I believed I needed to be involved in as many things as possible: dance, 4H, newspaper editing, yearbook committee, class president, volleyball, basketball, track, and softball-- to name a few. There must have been something from my childhood that told me safety came from constantly staying busy. Or maybe it was to be like my mother because that woman can never sit still. If you want a committee volunteer, call her up! But not me; I'm on the road to recovery.
How the Inner Critic Affects Our Lives
Our Judge can have a significant impact on our lives. We touched on self-esteem already, but it can also hinder our ability to achieve goals and even harm our relationships.
Our goals are in harm's way because it can talk us into avoiding risks/trying new things.
Our relationships are in jeopardy because we may be more likely to criticize others if we're constantly criticizing ourselves. It also causes us to be less patient, less empathetic, and less compassionate. Let me ask you, who wants to pal around with that person? I can only assume other Debbie Downers.
Overcoming the Inner Critic
While it's impossible to silence our Judge completely, there are ways to overcome its negative effects. Here are a few strategies:
Recognize when your Judge is speaking. The first step to overcoming the inner critic is to become aware of when it's talking. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise when facing a challenge or making a mistake. If you notice a critical voice, that's your Judge.
You may think, "well, this is helping me by pointing out the issue." Let's be clear, acknowledging the issue is good, but what the following message looks like is critical.
Berating = Not Healthy
Blameless Discernment = Healthy
Challenge your Judge. Once you recognize it, you can begin to challenge its assumptions and beliefs. I even like to toss in some jokes now and again.
A quick example, I start a new project, and it's not going smoothly. My Judge chimes in...
Judge: Ha! I knew you didn't have it in you for this project. You're not business-savvy enough to make it happen.
Me: Oh, you're back; what took you so long?
Judge: So long? I've thought you've sucked this whole time.
Me: Well, you took too long to voice your concerns; the suggestion box is closed.
Bring on the self-compassion. Self-love and empathy can be complicated but necessary. When the Judge appears, treat yourself as you would treat a good friend who's going through a difficult time. Be kind, patient, and understanding, and acknowledge that making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for overcoming the Judge. By becoming more present and aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can detach from negative self-talk easier and see it for what it truly is: a passing thought that doesn't define you.
As we practice more, it becomes easier to recognize and bounce back from the Judge—easier = stronger mental fitness.
Look, the inner critic (your Judge) can be a formidable opponent. But, you can learn to overcome its damaging effects and cultivate a more positive and compassionate response instead, which leads to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
And who doesn't want that?!
Here's to you,
Money Coach (AFC® Candidate)