Inner Critic or Inner Coach



Do you ever have conversations with yourself; ones that take place in your head?

As Dr. Jessica Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist based in New York says, “Talking to ourselves is completely within the norm. In fact, we talk to ourselves constantly.”

This inner voice might “talk” throughout the day or be unrecognizable; a critic or a coach. An inner critic is negative and may arise when you’ve made a mistake or are working on something difficult. This critic demands perfection or surrender. You may be very familiar with the voice nagging you into believing that anything other than perfect is not worth trying. It points out previous failures and warns of things that stand in the way of getting what you want.

An inner coach is positive and more likely to arise when you are succeeding. The inner coach supports your efforts, motivates you to keep trying even when you aren’t totally successful, encourages you to work toward improvement, and helps you figure out what might be standing in the way of your performance - like a personal trainer for your attitude!

As a young child, you were like a sponge, absorbing information. Your values and perceptions developed based on how you felt and interpreted experiences with family, religion, society, friends, and the media. From those sources, your inner critic or inner coach was born. In most cases, the critic speaks louder than the coach.

There are several ways to overcome the inner critic; let’s look at two of them: The first way is to ask yourself the following six questions to quiet your inner critic:

1. Do I have an “all-or-nothing” point of view?
2. Am I demanding perfection instead of rewarding progress?
3. Am I exaggerating the challenges or making excuses for why I can’t possibly succeed?
4. Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Is this interfering in my ability to make sound decisions?
5. Is this line of thinking going to help me or discourage me?
6. If I wanted to be more positive, what would I say to myself?

Seven steps for dealing with the inner critic:

First, listen to your inner voice for a week without judging or interacting with it; the longer you can listen the better. You may even want to record what the voice says in a journal.

After listening and observing for a while, you’ll be able to figure out your inner critic’s personality and habitual ways of talking to you.

Then, study your inner critic: now that you have your notes & observations ask yourself, “where did you hear these critic voices before?” “Whose voices are you really hearing?” Was it a well-meaning teacher/relative who reprimanded you in the past?

Perhaps, your parents’ judgment and point of views are coming through; however, now, they show up as self-created negative comments sabotaging your personal well being.

Ask your inner critic: How true is this? For example, if your thought is “I’m a failure,” then ask yourself “how is it that I have financial success and enjoy a balanced family life? By doing a reality check, you empower yourself instead of believing what your inner critic says. A question that can be helpful is “Does it really matter if I am - or not?”

Next, name your inner critic – choose a name that is not attached to anyone close to you and has a non-favorable, gloomy or even a cynical meaning for you. Have fun and use your imagination!

Then, create an imaginary persona for your inner critic. Is it male or female? How does it dress? What does it sound like? How does it smell? Is it old or young? The clearer your picture, the better; by giving a name and an image to your inner critic you equip yourself to effectively manage it.

Talk to your inner-critic. It is highly unlikely that this voice will disappear from your life, but you can quiet it. The inner critic is not used to being challenged, and it really wants to protect you from harm. So, create reasoned, positive arguments to reply to negative comments.

For example, if the critic said “You never do anything right.” Acknowledge the statement, and answer by saying that everything is OK, and you are in control of the situation. Ignoring, talking back to, and telling your inner critic to be quiet for a while can also be temporary ways to deal with it. You can order it to sit out of a conversation, or even wait in the car.

Finally, since the voice is here to stay, how about transforming it from a critic into the coach?

Your Inner Coach won’t say you are a failure or aren’t good enough. Instead, it will say: “This can work, and if it doesn’t you can make adjustments and try again. It isn’t the end of the world.” This Inner Coach recognizes that the journey to success has failure along the way, and that no failure is final and counsels “You’ve got this. Go!” rather than saying “Stop. Be safe.”

The following is a four step process for enhancing your inner coach.

The first step is to figure out what you want to accomplish. Sometimes the reason you don’t notice your success is because you don’t have clear goals. For example, saying, “I want to lose weight” is a big task! Telling yourself, “I want to stick to the diet I choose for one month” or “I want to lose 5 pounds” provides a more attainable, specific finish-line.

The second step is to set yourself up to accomplish a goal by determining what you need to do and breaking the goal into small steps – steps leading in the right direction. That way you know you’re on the right track.

For example, you might want to find a new job. The steps might include updating your resume, registering with an online classified service like Indeed, researching the industry in your area, and contacting prospective employers. Along the way, you can see your progress and redirect yourself from getting off-track.

The third step is to remove obstacles and problem solve. Identify things that stand in the way. Most of the time, with planning and problem-solving, an obstacle can be removed or, at least, set aside for a while.

Things to watch for include making excuses for why you don’t follow through, scheduling too many things for the same time, and making choices that bring you further from your goal.

Finally, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for progress you have made. Remember you are shooting for progress, not perfection! The bigger the success, the bigger the reward.

The inner critic reigned in my life for years and as I took on the role of care-provider for my husband who has dementia it became even louder. As a child, I was expected to be perfect, anything else was unacceptable and therefore I was unacceptable – not good enough. I internalized that message; so, the ideas that progress rather than perfection could be the goal and that success is fraught with failure were foreign to me.

Providing care for a loved one was a difficult, stressful undertaking for me – particularly because it was a role I never wanted or was prepared for. Then the virus showed and the critic’s voice became even stronger. It was unrelenting with messages such as “you should be helping him more,” “you shouldn’t have yelled,” “it’s not his fault, why aren’t you more patient?” “you should keep trying to fix it for him.” The ranting went on and on.

The name I gave the inner critic was Judge Judy. She stands there in her black gown pointing a finger at me yelling “you should have.”

I have been using the above guidelines. . . and am working to turn my life-long inner critic into an inner coach. My inner coach is more compassionate and reminds me of what I have done and am doing. She reminds me of my mentor, Alice, who had only kind words and thoughtful suggestions for me about how best to move forward. But it is a work in progress, changing old ways of being into more helpful ones. What might you recommend?

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