The Inner Critic Unveiled
Author: B. Marlain Morrison
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
- Patrick Overton
You may ask what is "the inner critic", but you are very familiar with it already. Remember the last time you made a seemingly bad decision and the little disembodied voice in your head whispered knowingly "Way to go! You really messed that up. Haven't you learned anything? How totally inept can you get." Viola! Enter, stage left, the inner critic. Also know as your "inner dialog" your "scripts or tapes" and some people mistake it for their conscience. Everyone has an inner critic, some have a more aggressive critic than others.
In the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People", Stephen Covey refers to it as the scripts that have been handed to us by parents, society, cultural influence, friends, co-workers etc. It is the concept of how other's perception of us and our behavior shapes that inner critic so we perpetuate that perception - "it must be so, they see it." People's perception of us does not make it so. Mr. Covey uses an example from the play "Man of La Mancha" where Don Quixote sees a lovely and virtuous person in a woman of the street. He even gives her a new name, but she can't see beyond the scripts that have been handed to her for years that she is a shameful creature.
The Patrick Overton quote above shows the perpetuation of such a situation. And it all starts with our inner thought life, our inner dialogue. Dale Carnegie states "Remember, happiness doesn't depend upon who you are (position, influence) or what you have (money), it depends solely upon what you think."
But how does the inner critic come to be, you ask? Actually, the inner critic started out as a very important aspect of our life growing up. I believe I can state without backlash that most all human beings want to avoid pain, all pain, even emotional pain! But you can't be alive, on this planet/dimension, and not have the close calls and occasional brushes with at least some pain - no matter how charmed a life you have. But the developing individual in the child keeps a scoreboard of experience in life as part of understanding the workings of the world. Before long the scoreboard gets a voice, "you know the last time Suzy broke something you took the blame." Before you know it you have an inner critic who is trying to protect you, keep you from pain of every conceivable kind. A "protector" who takes on a life of it's own.
So why isn't the inner critic considered your dearest and closest friend? After all, who else will go to such trouble and gymnastics to keep you safe and out of harm's way! But here's the rub, this is where we get the concept of our "comfort zone", better known as our self-imposed prison. Oh yes! That inner critic becomes the jail keeper and you find yourself going through the motions of life never taking the risks or grabbing the opportunities that come your way. And what is life in a prison (no matter how nicely furnished or comfortable)? This is how so very many people live a life full of regrets "if I had only had the guts to try that idea", "If only I had accepted that job." "I always wanted to ____________, if only I had." Or even worse than all the others "I would have really liked to have that life, but I am not worthy."
The inner critic can very easily destroy self esteem, built upon some careless and hurtful word said at some point in our past and the scoreboard keeps a tally of the minutia that supports such a statement! Another example of your inner critic turned your jailer is the tendency to always question your decisions or experience. Do you need to have somebody validate your decisions were good ones or your experience is true or common? Even something as simple as a $2 purchase you fret over if you made the right choice. This is the inner critic, so-to-speak, out of control.
Now for the true death sentence for the inner critic, ever heard of the "self-fulfilling prophecy?" The theory that, if you believe in a certain outcome, you will act in such a way that you actually bring about just that outcome. So, if your inner critic keeps telling you that you really don't deserve such-and-such, you are likely to act in a way to make sure you don't get it. An emerging theory that is gaining acceptance, known as the law of attraction says "as within, so without." As your inner dialog/scripts define your "reality" then the outer world of form and substance will manifest just that. Essentially, you will attract into your life just what your inner thoughts keep saying!
So, how do you or I stop, or at least change, the inner critic? How do you counter the years of self-programming? Below I give an exercise to start on the path right now, today. But, part 2 of this article, "Affirmations to the Rescue" will go into more details about how to truly start countering and combating the inner critic and start on your path to personal freedom.
The next part of this article we will get more in depth with the most effective ways to reverse the damage and throw open the prison doors! But right now you need to start becoming increasingly aware of your inner critic, sensitize yourself.
1) The best way to begin is to carry with you a compact notebook and start recording your inner dialog/tapes/critic etc. This doesn't mean recording blow-by-blow each thought, but it does mean jotting down the general idea. An acute awareness is the first step, so take that travel size notebook everywhere with you. As you take notes in such an analytical approach, you may start to make connections of how such scripts/dialog may have started.
2) A second activity would be to tackle that inner critic and observe what responses it throws in your face. Start by writing down something you want to do that is truly outside your comfort zone and then note each of the thoughts that run through your head in response. Keep writing as long as arguments keep coming up. Can you identify how or where you may have developed such scripts? These exercises will greatly assist you when we get to part two!
An example from my personal life follows. I was on the phone with my mother, when she said "don't dream so big, you'll only be disappointed." I was throwing my hands in the air - AHA! That is where that particular script came from for me! And it made sense, my mother, a depression era child, with mostly bitter disappointments in life had just existed in life, eking out enough to keep good clothes on us and live in safe neighborhoods with decent schools.
She had a rigid "comfort zone" which didn't include dreaming - even about a vacation. I have to give her credit, she survived as a single parent when it wasn't acceptable, managed to raise me without any major hiccups and saw me on my way into adulthood. But she may never realize that her approach robbed her of any vibrancy and joy in her life.
By understanding the inner critic I have compassion for my mother, but I also fully recognize that I don't want that in my life and I have the choice to break down those limiting thoughts and scripts. You do too!
About the author
Ms Morrison has spent nearly twenty years in the fortune 500 corporate settings as well as the Department of Defense industry. She holds a Bachelors in Business Administration with an emphasis in management and a Bachelors of Arts in Sacred Theology. She is a member of the International Association of Coaches and is trained through Coachville.
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