Is Your Inner Critic Making A Mistake?

Image courtesy of Eric Langley
Image courtesy of Eric Langley

Lots of people are hard on themselves. Some people are very hard on themselves.

However hard you are on yourself it is not fun.

Being shouted at on the inside of your head by a Sergeant Major who is telling you how useless you are can be very stressful.

Very few people enjoy the treatment, but when they are invited to accept themselves and let go of the inner critic they suddenly find themselves reluctant to part with it.

They might say that if they didn’t have their inner critic goading them on they would lose their motivation and just become couch potatoes. Although they don’t like the inner critic they need it to keep them moving forward.

But is this true?

Do people lose their motivation when they retrain or retire their inner critic?

Have you been with a baby when they are learning to walk?

Babies are indefatigable. Once they have it in their minds that they are ready to learn to walk they really go for it. With huge concentration and effort, they get up, stagger a few steps, fall down, get up again, stagger a few more steps, fall down again (have a cry), get up and take some more steps. That’s a lot of work, a lot of disappointment and failure at the beginning until they enjoy more and more success.

If you are helping a child to learn to walk, do you shout at them when they fall down, tell them they are doing it all wrong, that they are not good enough and will never get it right?

For the child’s sake, I hope not.

If that child had an inner critic who spoke in such harsh terms, would they find it helpful?

I doubt it. It’s hard to learn when your paralysed by fear and condemnation. Fortunately at this stage children haven’t yet learned to criticise themselves.

Most people help a child to walk by being encouraging, kind, and supportive, acknowledging each setback and praising each success.

If that child had an inner mentor who treated them like that, would they find it helpful?

I think so. Acceptance and encouragement make the world a safe environment to learn in.

You were once a baby learning to walk; fast forward 10, 20, 30 years or more.

Now your inner critic tells you that if they don’t threaten and criticise you then you wont do anything, learn anything or make any progress.

In who’s interest is the idea that the inner critic is the only one who can keep you moving forward?

Not sure? Here’s another clue: who is telling you that you can’t succeed without them?

That’s right, they are!

But your inner critic is wrong.

In lots of research the differences between people who accept themselves and people with punitive self-criticism, the self-acceptant people are more resilient, motivated, more likely to persist with a task and less prone to procrastination. (Is your inner critic getting nervous reading this?)

It may that your inner critic is doing the best it can for you and it has an important job of motivating you, or keeping you safe, but the way that it is doing it is at a very high cost to your emotional and physical well-being. All those stress hormones it floods your system with are not helping you.

You might like to entertain the possibility that there is life after an inner critic is retrained or retired and that you can motivate yourself quite well without being beaten up.

If the inner critic starts telling you all the reasons why that would never work, just remember who’s speaking.

The ability of a child to persevere and learn is still present within you and all of us and it doesn’t need being shouted at to work.

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