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Working With an Inner Critic

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Most of us have met them. This persistent voice from within that tells us where we went wrong, how we failed, and that we are just not good enough. It is commonly referred to as the inner critic, saboteur, judge, or the checker.

The inner critic can take many shapes and at times shows up as a committee or army of inner attackers. There's the judge, the shamer, the pusher, and occasionally the indifferent "you deserve to suffer" character. It can also focus on what's wrong with others and how they failed us or blame circumstance.


The inner critic is neither good nor bad and serves an important purpose. It is born out of a survival function and resides in the more ancient parts of our brain. While its initial purpose was to signal danger and keep us safe from predators and the environment, it also supports our need for self-improvement and helps us to face some difficult truths. It is only when its strength is overused that the inner critic can start excessively judging - ourselves, others, and circumstances - and get in the way of being our best.


It is then that becoming aware of our inner critic/saboteur can be incredibly helpful. Being able to step back from it by recognizing its voice allows us to determine our actions based on what we really want instead of what our saboteur tells us to do. Working with a coach can help to differentiate if our inner critic enables us to learn and grow or gets us stuck in an endless circle of negative thinking.


Here are some basic techniques grounded in psychological research and neuroscience that can be explored with a coach:


Don't believe your thoughts. The first step in facing the critic is to remember that what shows up as hard truth in our minds is just a thought. And thoughts are not real, yet. They only become real when we decide to act on them and create facts. So, striving for perspective and putting the inner critic in its place is one way to weaken its power.


Engage with your critic. When it is hard to banish harsh thoughts from our minds, we can try to turn the volume down and engage in a constructive dialogue. Befriending the inner critic and exploring how it has served us and where it comes from can make all the difference between being reactive versus responding with intent to a challenging situation.


Activate your sage powers. Mobilizing another cast of inner characters that is meant to foster inner nurturing and self-compassion, also referred to as sage powers, can help with feeling empathy for self and others and activate our self-resourcing powers. Reflecting on positive experiences with others, acknowledging your own strength and starting a journal, positive self-talk, and focusing on positive emotions such as gratitude, curiosity, and creativity can help as well as visualizing the positive forces that keep us safe and protected.


Use your body. Finally, meditative exercises such as breathing while putting a hand above the heart, or somatic exercises focused on experiencing our senses, are effective in generating focus and enough of a pause to enable us to let go of negative thinking or evoking a sense of compassion. This in turn opens the mind towards broader perspectives, the consideration of other options, and the ability to respond or generate change in a more reflective manner.


If you are interested in more information and different approaches on how to explore the inner critic/saboteur and active the sage powers, please see: