How to get along with your own inner critic
This is the inner voice telling you that you can´t make it, that you are not good enough, fast enough, funny enough or smart enough: or perhaps that you are too selfish, too clumsy or too boring… It will tell you whatever will make you stop and take a step back.
The inner critical voice, also known as the Saboteur or Gremlin, jumps up to tell us those things when we are about to give public presentations, before first dates with new people, important meetings, exams, interviews or small talk with strangers… and makes us anxious, makes us want to escape.
Everybody has such an inner voice, sometimes several of them. The Saboteur usually develops in childhood, often repeating sentences the child hears from its parents. At that time, the Saboteur has a clear function: to protect the child from taking risks with bad consequences.
The trouble is that the Saboteur hates change, and keeps telling us the same stuff long after we grow up and long after such close protection is needed. It is a bit like telling us: going to the city on your own is dangerous, the forest is dangerous, travelling is scary…. but instead of city, forest or travels, it often warns us about social situations at work or in our private lives. And we struggle to distinguish when the inner voice´s advice is really for our own good and when, on the other hand, it actually prevents us from living according to our values, and living up to our full potential.
Why does the Saboteur have such a power? Because it tells us things we are afraid might be true. It does not come with completely irrelevant stories, but reminds us of situations from years ago when something we wanted to do did not work out: perhaps we forgot the poem we were meant to recite in the kindergarten, we told a joke to a group of kids and nobody found it funny, we had a crush on a schoolmate who preferred someone else, or we wanted to do something our parents told us we were too small for… and yes, they were right, we failed.
But does that mean we would forget our presentations, fail in impressing our date, or appear boring or incapable of completing the work project now? We will never find the answers out, if we do take that step back and avoid trying anything.
What can you do about your own Saboteur?
The tricky part: you can never get rid of your Saboteur totally.
The good part: you can learn to get along with it, as well as teach it to shout less often, less insistently, and about fewer things.
- Recognize your inner Saboteur, first of all. Explore what it says, what it warns you about, when it appears and how you tend to react. Accept that it is a part of you, but at the same time, that it is just one of your inner voices.
- Notice that the Saboteur voice is likely to be exaggerating. That is, for example, when it talks to you in absolute words (you always, you never…), commands (you must, you cannot) or insults (you coward, you weakling).
- Treat the Saboteur’s warnings like you would treat a friend´s advice (not an enemy´s) – take it into consideration but do not live your whole life according to it. Follow it when you feel it is helpful for you, and don´t, when it is exaggerating and sabotaging you.
- Accept that many situations contain risks. So the question should not be: “Is my Saboteur wrong or right about existing risks?”, but: “Are the risks really so high and dangerous that I prefer giving up the chance to challenge myself?”
- Think of your biggest achievements and what you had to do and overcome to get there. You will likely realize that for each of the achievements, you had to overcome that inner voice too. Remember it the next time your saboteur appears.
There is no personal growth in life without taking risks and doing things that we are not totally confident about. Sometimes we take such risks and fail. But many other times it will work out, and those will be exactly the life successes we will later be most proud of.
Work with own Saboteur, the inner critic, is often a part of coaching process. If you would like to work on coping with your Saboteur, you can contact me here and appoint a coaching session.