Taming your Inner Critic

Have you ever done a really good job at something, and then, not long after, “heard” a rather harsh, critical voice in your head, attacking what you’ve done?

Last week I saw a post on FaceBook from Lissa Rankin, an MD who practiced as an OB/GYN physician for eight years, then left clinical medicine in 2010 to follow her dream to heal health care. Here’s what she said, “Just got off the TEDxFargo stage, and my inner critics just attacked me backstage. As my friend SARK would say, “Quick! Officer! Arrest them before they get away with this.”

I was very moved to read that someone who was respected enough to give a TED talk could still experience being hard on herself. In fact, later in the post, she asked, “Why are we so hard on ourselves, when we’re all just doing the best we can?”

I have thought a lot about that question. I even wrote a play about it, called Zelda and the Frozen Kisses. (Zelda is what I call my Inner Critic.) What I’ve decided, after years of my experiencing my Inner Critic’s beating me up for even minor infractions, is that she is like a scared little girl who’s decided to handle her fears by becoming a bully. The more scared she is, the harsher she gets, “yelling” things that are hurtful and demeaning to me.

My great-granddaughter Aryana helps me stay in touch with the LIttle Girl inside me!

My great-granddaughter Aryana helps me stay in touch with the LIttle Girl inside me!

So what’s an alternative to “arresting” her? Or telling her to “shut up, already!”

According to an article on Boston Children’s Hospital website, one way to prevent bullying is that “parents should strive to create an atmosphere of tolerance, respect and compassion at home.”

Here’s my suggestion: What if we decided that we are going to create an atmosphere of tolerance, respect and compassion towards our Inner Critic? What would that look like? When she starts in on us, we could decide to give her some loving attention. (And if we can’t quite do that for ourselves, we could ask a kind friend to help us.) We could say something like, “Look, I know I did a good job; I did the best I could. Why are you attacking me like this? What are you afraid of?

Once when I asked Zelda why she was being so mean to me, she said, “If I don’t keep on top of you, you won’t do what you need to do and we’ll lose everything.” (No, I don’t have a split personality; I just use this tool to get at some feelings that are underneath the first words!) So I said back, “Your scared! No wonder you’re yelling at me. I promise, I’m all grown up and I can take care of us. You don’t have to worry so much.”  We both felt better!

So the next time you get attacked by your Inner Critic, take a moment to “have a chat with her,” and see what you can learn about yourself and your own fears. You’ll be amazed!


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