Does Your Inner Critic Stop You?

Do you long to fulfill your career dream, but find yourself stalled because you lack the self-confidence to move forward? Maybe you’re saying things to yourself like:

“Who am I to think I can actually achieve my dream?”

 “What gives me the right to expect that I can be happy in my work?”

 “I’ve never been good at making change.”

 “I just don’t have what it takes to do this.”

 “My dream is not grounded in reality.”

This is the voice of your inner critic speaking. It’s negative self-talk, and it may be an unconscious habit. Where does your inner critic come from, and who invited her/him into your head anyway?

Your inner critic has probably developed over time, nurtured by people and exacerbated by past experiences. Maybe a parent or sibling instilled fear and self-doubt in you through a constant drumbeat of negative messages. This may have left you feeling unworthy, inadequate, or undeserving. Or, you might have experienced hardship or failure that has shaken your faith in yourself.

Silence Your Inner Critic

The good news is that you can learn to silence your inner critic. It starts by identifying the source. When you hear a negative thought in your head, ask yourself who has said something like this to you in the past or what old, outdated life experience has fed this message.

Once you have a good idea of the origin, you’re ready to examine how the old message no longer fits your current reality. For example, you may have earned the admiration of professional peers for your talents, but inside you still feel like the C student of your childhood. Or, you’ve surpassed the education level of your parents, but their past criticism of your ability still stings. It’s time to acknowledge this disconnect and move on.

Try this exercise:

  1. Ask yourself when the voice of your inner critic typically speaks up. What circumstances trigger it? This builds your awareness of its presence.
  2. Personify your inner critic in a lighthearted way by imagining her/him as a small cartoon character. What does (s)he look like? Picture this character sitting across from you having a conversation.
  3. What is (s)he saying to you? This will likely be a replay of past, outmoded messages or experiences.
  4. Ask your inner critic what (s)he wants from you. You’ll probably learn that her/his mission is to keep you stuck in negativity.
  5. Tell your inner critic that (s)he is no longer welcome in your head and doesn’t get to drive your thoughts any more.
  6. Wrap up the conversation by articulating to your inner critic the positive forces in your life today that cancel out her/his old, outdated messages.

While this may seem like a silly activity, it allows you to directly confront, challenge, and disempower your inner critic. It does this by reducing your inner critic to a mere cartoon character that you have the power to dismiss.

If (s)he tries to emerge again in your head, remind her/him that you’re not going to listen. As you practice this new habit, over time your inner critic should get tired and eventually disappear.

If you find that your inner critic persists, there may be something deeper going on that is rooted in past trauma, neglect, or another painful experience. In this case, it’s advisable to seek therapy to uncover and address the source.

Move Forward

Whether you learn to silence your inner critic on your own or with the help of a therapist, you’ll come out the winner as you finally put the past behind you and move forward to fulfill your career dream.

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