Which do you recognise?
And yet I often take her seriously, not even recognising that it’s her who is holding me back.
I take her word as the unquestionable truth on who I am, what others think of me and what I’m capable of.
My Inner Critic has kept me trapped and unfulfilled in my career, romantic and spiritual life and in my friendships.
My Inner Critic once turned up in a meditation as an owl. Pecky. Always watching. Swooping and very scratchy.
What does our Inner Critic tell us?
Basically all the mean shit. I think you can group it into five rough themes: self-doubt, self-criticism, guilt, comparison and catastrophising. It’s not a definitive list by any means - our Inner Critic has an amazing capacity for creativity and flair!
I’m not good enough to…
I’m not qualified enough to…
I don’t have enough experience to…
I’d never be able to…
I’m not the kind of person who…
People from my kind of background don’t…
Maybe it’s me who is the problem here…
Frequently I hear women start to give their opinion on an issue or something they want and then lose confidence in this emergent voice. Suddenly they say “I don’t know” or “I’m waffling on”, “Maybe I’m wrong”. Sound familiar?
There’s a whole bunch of stuff in here too that I would describe as being “foggy” that I might draw out at a later date. It’s as if the self-doubt brings a heavy cloud of vagueness into our lives.
These stories are generally harsher than the self-doubt and for me are typically in relation to how I think other people see me.
For example, I used to rehearse what I said in talks over and over again afterwards and mentally punish myself for any perceived mistakes.
Voices included: “That was f*cking stupid”, “WHY did you say that?”, “They’ll have thought you don’t know what you are doing.” And generally just feeling cringey and awful about the whole thing.
Or in a group, I would share my experience and at some point panic that I’m “Taking up too much space” (that old sausage).
Or if I was pro-actively getting feedback from someone else, I would prepare by trying to pre-empt all of the things they would say about me being wrong or that could have been better.
All the stories of “I’m being or I would be selfish…..” “My needs aren’t as important as…”
She’s the voice that stops you leaving a job that’s making you sad and ill, because she tells you it’s selfish to abandon people suffering more than you.
She’s so much better than me at….
She’s the colleague who is good at…. not me.
I could never do that…
This is the kind of comparison that keeps up held down - I think competitiveness can actually be quite helpful at times, if it draws you onward and upward without dragging other people down.
My Inner Critic is incredibly risk averse. She honestly thinks the world will end if I do or don’t do certain things - at least that’s at the end of a train of thought if I keep asking her “what would happen then? And what do you think would happen then?”
If I quit my job to go self-employed I won’t earn enough money and then I’ll be homeless and I’ll die.
If I leave this relationship, I’ll be lonely forever and will just die miserable.
The “world will end” part isn’t always immediately obvious - but if you find your Inner Critic telling you there will be bad consequences, try following that line of inquiry through with her.
Why does she act like this?
I’ve come to think that my Inner Critic is largely there to police my People Pleaser when she does something “wrong”. My Inner Critic goes into overdrive to shield me from criticism, blame, rejection, disapproval, dislike and all the other things that my People Pleaser is trying to avoid too. My Inner Critic gets there first before anyone else could (she's often wrong about the reality of other people's opinions, but that's another story).
In her own funny way, then, our Inner Critic is also trying to keep us safe. Just like our People Pleaser, she has a tiring job - equally hypervigilant and rarely letting her guard down. While she shouldn’t remain in the driving seat of our lives, she does deserve understanding and kindness. She’s got her reasons that make sense on their own level.