The inner critic: trying to help, but actually destructive

Tara Mohr, whose book Playing Big has made a big impact in my life, writes about the inner critic, and how you need to understand this voice in you, and recognize that it different from you – that you and your inner critic are not one and the same.  I have been exploring this concept with some of my colleagues.  We have engaged in direct dialogue with the inner critic – literally embodying it as a way to have a discussion with it, hear what it has to say, and speak to it directly.  The insights that came out of this experience were profound for each person who participated.  And one of the biggest benefits was the growth in intimacy among co-workers – something that is not always present in the work setting and when it is, is a real gift because it enriches my daily existence.

One of my colleagues sent me this video of a master class with opera singer Joyce DiDonato.  In it she talks about the inner critic and the inner mentor, and specifically how the inner critic voice never makes us better (watch from 7:30 to 15:50).    I really appreciated how courageously she shared her own experience, because the idea that the inner critic serves us is one that I and my colleagues believed when we first started exploring these parts of ourselves.  But in reality, this inner negative voice only undermines our confidence and gets in our way by preventing us from being fully present.  It actually prevents you from true discernment about what you are doing well and what you could improve. Believing that the inner critic voice is helpful, that listening to it will help make you better or more successful, gets in your way and prevents you from growing. When I reflect on my own experience, it is true that no joy, no growth, and no real success has come from listening to my inner critic.  Only doubt and suffering.

I can’t make my inner critic disappear, and in fact don’t want to.  She is a part of who I am.  I want to honor her, because she is trying to protect me.  But rather than act on her voice, I want to simply acknowledge it and recognize that it comes from a dark place. My inner mentor has been much quieter over the years, drowned out by the critic, but her voice is growing in strength.

Thank you to Cristina Roark, Emily Thorpe, Sara Strueby, and Marina Barnes for sharing themselves and to Marina for sharing the Joyce DiDonato video with me.

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3 Responses to The inner critic: trying to help, but actually destructive

  1. Barbara says:

    Great post, El. I like how respectfully you treat this non-useful voice. In my experience I’ve referred to it as “the little green men who say things like “in the REAL world”…. etc. ” and then again in working with people who are occasionally trapped by anxiety, I call it the “worry bully.” True that it speaks with a voice intended to protect – but in all things that are alive, remaining paralyzed in order to protect, rarely results in positive outcomes. Nurturing the voice that says “making something better means changing how things are today” usually results in short and long term better outcomes…

  2. Betsy Bell says:

    In the circle of sales leaders I meet with weekly, we call this voice the Gremlin. We talk about thanking it for trying to keep us safe, but ask it to buzz off when we are trying to try on new sales techniques that make us uncomfortable. Natalie Goldberg teaches writers to go to coffee shops or restaurants to write because, she says, the inner critic is so busy handling the distracting environment, it doesn’t have time to slow down the flow of the creative mind. Later, when the fresh writing is on the page, we invite the critic to take a look. I loved the video. she is so right. Nothing good comes from the inner critic. The idea that it will keep us safe in completely overrated and inappropriate. Thanks for bringing this topic to your blog. It must be wonderful to share the experience of handling that destructive voice with colleagues. Betsy

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