Why you need to stop silencing your inner critic

Stop silencing your inner critic - love them instead

 8 min |

We’ve all been there. Paralysed by perfectionism.

And now, here I am, staring down the longest blank page I’ve ever seen in an everlasting, unending notebook – for what else is a blog on the interwebs, if not a digital notebook with infinite blank pages?!

Pages waiting to be filled with brilliance and wit and wisdom.

I thought writing my first post would be easy. I thought calling my blog “Notebook” would make it less formal and less formidable.

There are over 150 topic ideas sitting in my Trello account. I know exactly what I’m going to write about next time. But today, this first post? It has to be perfect – the most insightful post I’ll ever write. #nopressure

Even though I already gave myself permission to post only one image, or one {incredible} sentence, or share another person’s cool contribution to the world, I still can’t start.

Enter my brazen, intimidating and always scathing inner critic.

We’re not friends.

She’s a cruel big sister who I can’t escape. She knows which buttons to press and, worse still, she knows I need her when I wish she’d cease to exist.

I call mine Esmeralda – I’ll tell you why later.

∞ ∞ ∞

You have one too. The constant fault-finder with her cruel, chastising whispers. The scrutinising judge who never holds back.

She might come out several times a day, always when you least expect it.

She’s so loud, taking over your voice box, saying “you stupid idiot” out loud before you realise it’s not the real you speaking.

You’ve tried to silence her, but it never works for long.

Will you let her overpower you?

I believe you must learn to love your inner critic.

My Esmeralda is part of me, always has been, always will. Viewing her as a stroppy, relentless, attention-seeking big sister who has the rare ability to bestow nuggets of gold, is helping me accept and work with her.

But it’s bloody hard to stay so vigilant!


The tale of two wolves

A Cherokee legend , brought to my attention by Paul Jarvis , tells the story of a Grandfather teaching his grandson about the terrible fight between two wolves going on inside ALL of us.

One “evil” wolf represents negativity, like anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment… inferiority.

The other “good” wolf is full of joy, peace, love, hope, generosity, truth… empathy – our positive emotions and actions.

The child asks his grandfather, “Which one will win?”

His simple reply, “The one you feed.”

I refuse to place all those emotions into the one “evil” wolf. I think inferiority can take up a whole wolf all by itself and, before you realise what’s happening, you’re dragged you away to join the pack of self-pity, resentment, regret, sorrow… and possibly into depression.

I believe you need both the negative and positive / yin and yang, for:

Stop silencing your inner critic - love them instead


Bliss is not bliss without despair to make it so. Click To Tweet

Although I like the wolf parable above, when it comes to self-doubt, you can’t let that wolf starve, because you can channel her for good.

And, anyway, your inner critic is not ever going away or will ever shut up!

So, if they must co-exist, how can you make that happen while keeping your mental health on an even keel?


Stop silencing {and hating} your inner critic – love them instead

As suspected, a quick google search on “loving your inner critic” brings up umpteen posts on why you must silence that hateful voice.

But I know why my inner critic is so vital and I don’t want to silence her.

I’m not the only person opposing this. Dr Joanna Martin on One of Many explains {without any psychobabble}, your inner critic has an underlying and helpful function.

She wants to keep you safe from hurt and rejection before anyone else can hurt you. “She wants you to be great. She always knows when something isn’t to the highest standard.”

Even though Esmeralda loves to tell me I’m a useless fool, Joanna says once I’m more aware of her triggers, I can “try to identify that little child in you who’s just been bullied to hell, step into your Mother archetype and tell her she’s loved.”

Joanna even recommends creating a physical representation of your inner critic, like a drawing or sock puppet, and having a conversation with it. Asking “What are you so worried about?” and “Why?” and continuing to peel back each layer until you get to the underlying reason.

When you understand her motivations, you can say “Thank you so much for looking out for me. I really appreciate that, and I’ve listened to you. I’ve got this now.”


How do you handle your inner critic? Treat them like a child who needs love

Your inner critic is just a vulnerable child who needs love. Click To Tweet

I’ve found personifying my inner critic helps me separate the repetitive bullying monologue from “come on, I know you could do better, so how can you improve on this?”.

Beyoncé has her alter ego Sasha Fierce, David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust – why not use an alter ego for your inner critic?

It doesn’t always work. Like all good prank-pulling siblings, Esmeralda knows how to creep up and take me by surprise.

∞ ∞ ∞

I also discovered an interesting interview on the Harvard Business Review’s IdeaCast blog which goes a step further in separating the inner critic from constructive critical thinking – helpful when Esmeralda has taken over and is dragging me down a dark vortex.

Tara Mohr , the author of Playing Big, and Sarah Green Carmichael discuss what holds us back and keeps us “playing small”. Fear is at the core of it – fear of failure, rejection, controversy. Tara talks about re-evaluating your relationship with praise, as well as how to separate self-doubt from constructive criticism, because the inner critic voice is not telling the truth.”

Listening to the tone of your thoughts, the inner critic is “…very repetitive and like a broken record …very black and white in its thinking… If it’s talking to you in a way that is harsher and meaner than you would want to speak to someone you love, you’re hearing the inner critic.”

Tara goes on to describe the voice of critical or realistic thinking as curious. It seeks solutions and is forward moving and, above all, is not repetitive.

She also talks about how to manage the inner critic – you mustn’t argue with it, or encourage others {eg team members} to argue with theirs. Instead, similar to Joanna’s ideas above, you must simply notice it.

It’s a case of “allow it to be present, but not run the show… saying thank you for your input, but we’ve got this covered, other parts of us. And you’re allowed to be here, but you’re not allowed to make the decision about what we do or don’t do.”

This sounds like a healthy approach, especially when irrational thoughts are the only thoughts you’re having.

Whether you separate and personify your inner critic, or split her further into irrational {Esmeralda} and critical thinking {curious Ezie}, know this:

We can choose to let our inner critics help or hinder us.


Why your inner critic is so useful, dammit

This has everything to do with refining.

Refining your actions, your behaviour, your work, products, services, your communication…

Artists and designers evaluate, scrutinize, distil, review, refine, clarify, over and over until they are satisfied {or hit an uncompromising deadline, or they’ve driven themselves to distraction and reach the “screw it” point and fling it out into the world before hiding their delicate egos in a cavern guarded by two laser-eyed sphinxes}.

Creative souls are often ravaged by their inner critic, as their first {formally amazing, now cringe-worthy} draft gets annihilated.

As a business owner, you are creative – you create products &/or services that others can enjoy / improve / transform their lives with.

Which means your fault-finder will love to shout.

If you and I can look past our repetitive self-chastising and tease out the curious side of our inner critics, we can put them to work! This is why we need them:

#1 Creation

Finding faults in your industry or competitors can lead you to breakthroughs and, in turn, to creating and inventing new products/services.

#2 Restraint

Do you get swamped with ideas? Your inner critic can encourage procrastination through perfectionism, but it can also stem the incessant flow of ideas, so you can get to work.

#3 Iteration

Regularly reviewing your endeavours means you can refine and improve so many areas of your business, such as your:

offerings, through detailed customer feedback;
goals and targets, be those financial, lead-generating, statistical, life/balance or success-related;
 communication strategy, through meticulous analysis and mindful planning;
marketing and promotional activities – adverts, events, freebies, interviews, press releases, email campaigns etc;
systems – streamlining your processes and day-to-day operations, like your community management, delivery {of products, services, communications}, client onboarding, customer service, training & HR, website housekeeping etc;
your copy {by self-editing, or hiring a wordsmith}.

Creation, restraint and especially iteration can l help your business flourish.


Want to know I why named my inner critic Esmeralda?

Esmeralda is a Spanish name which means Emerald {certain hues are more valuable than diamond}. According to crystal dictionaries and the irrefutable Wikipedia, Emerald was worshipped by the Incas, is the sacred stone of the goddess Venus and is a symbol of hope, renewal, intuition, wisdom and love.


What does your inner critic look like? Do they have a name?

Do you have a mantra you say to remind yourself “this is my inner critic talking”?

I’d love to hear how you handle your inner critic in the comments below.


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