When Your Inner Critic is on Steroids

Approximately one-third of us who made New Year’s resolutions are on track to break them before the end of the month.  Franklin Covey’s survey found that “35 percent of respondents break their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January.” Additionally, 77% are abandoned at some point or another altogether, leaving only a 23 percent success factor.  While some people can seemingly break their promises to themselves with relative impunity, it’s safe to say most people will be disappointed in, and critical of, themselves.

Our Inner Critic can be a valuable resource, inducing us to strive for better performance after evaluating the quality of our work and relationships.  But for some people, the Inner Critic goes into overdrive.  When your Inner Critic is on steroids, you’re convinced you’re no good.  You can’t, you’re less than, you’re not worthy, and ultimately, you’ll be fearful of risk and change.  Paradoxically, the very thing you want to do – change something – is the thing you’re kept from doing.

While it primarily uses self-talk, the Inner Critic isn’t afraid to take messages from others – implied or overt – and adapt them to suit its purpose.  This is rooted in the idea of protecting our fragile esteem, but things can go haywire relatively quickly.

Much of the time, we talk to ourselves in ways we would never dream of speaking to another, and we accept harmful messages from ourselves that we would never put up with if they came from someone else.  Freeing ourselves from the toll these messages take and the harm they can wreak requires constant vigilance.

In worst case scenarios, the Inner Critic can transform a healthy psyche into a neurotic, compulsive, compensation machine. Since the Critic’s means is comparison, unrelenting harsh assessments can result in envy, which in turn can manifest feelings of dread, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and narcissism.

Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, writing in JSTOR: The Journal of Philosophy, argues that while a state of envy might imply a need for balancing an inequality, reducing inequality in most cases raises envy’s intensity.  If by comparison we find ourselves lacking in a desired attribute, such as material wealth, beauty, intelligence or something else we desire, we feel more inferior, resentful and even hostile.

As well as cultivating envy, inferiority and mistrust, your inner critic relies upon the premise that you don’t deserve what you desire.  We’ve all had brushes with Imposter Syndrome no matter how accomplished we are.  Muffling our Inner Critic is critical to keep things in more realistic perspective, where the process of changing behaviors can occur in relaxed circumstances, free from negative thoughts.

It’s a difficult process to mask or reduce the effects of negative criticisms that come from within ourselves.  Reviewing your credentials and accomplishments can remind you of your factual successes.  Since your inner critic is rooted in emotion, objective response can be neutralizing.

When you strive to do things well – perfectly, even – you can unwittingly give your Inner Critic an open invitation. I have frequently said, “No one can beat me up better than I can myself.”  The truth inherent in that statement is that internalized messages are likely amplified by the voice of the inner critic so much as to not even closely resemble an accurate appraisal.  It was a revelation to realize that “good enough” regularly does just fine.

Resolving to make changes, setting goals and objectives, and stretching our performance levels in our personal and professional lives are worthy activities.  While you’re starting something new, trying to make a change or when you know you’re doing your best work, inviting your Inner Critic to take a hiatus is a healthy alternative. Susan David, at the Harvard Business Review writes, “The trick to dealing with your inner critic is to develop a balanced relationship with it: to not ignore or avoid it and the emotions it raises, but to also not allow yourself to be bullied by it.”

What happens to someone who allows himself to be bullied by an Inner Critic? Well, as you might suspect, it isn’t pretty.  Sam Vaknin tells us we can be “. . . besieged and tormented by a sadistic Superego which sits in constant judgment. It is an amalgamation of negative evaluations, criticisms, angry or disappointed voices, and disparagement . . .” In other words, an Inner Critic that is allowed to run rampant can create a need to “satisfy the inexorable demands of his inner tribunal and to prove wrong its harsh and merciless criticism.” Behold, the narcissist.

Lori Hoeck, of Think Like a Black Belt, and I have been collaborating and exploring how a narcissistic response to an Inner-Critic-on-Steroids evolves.  We’ll be revealing our conclusions in a reference you can download.

Lori and I envisioned our project as a way for you to protect yourself from a dysfunctional dynamic within – the first line of healthy self-defense.  Additionally, our scripts and tips can neutralize some of the more unpleasant realities if you have been or currently are involved with a narcissist.  It’s coming soon!  Even if you’re simply struggling with hyper-critical self-messages, you will be amazed by how harmful the unchecked effects of an Inner Critic can be in contributing to unhealthy co-dependencies.

Letting our Inner Critic run rampant creates a mental prison that keeps us from our best. It will distort, bully, and resist the changes we so desperately and regularly attempt to make.  Instead of allowing it to beat us up, a more healthy way of keeping it in check is to realize it’s there, confront and deflect, and then move forward with clarity and strength.  “Yeah, I was disappointed in myself when I didn’t follow my exercise plan.  I even wondered why I couldn’t seem to stick with it.  I’ve decided to start going to the gym before work when my day is first beginning, instead of after work when I’m tired and too easily tempted to just go home and stay there.”

While you may have already broken your New Year’s resolutions, there’s still no reason you can’t start them all over again. If you never made any because you told yourself you’ve never been successful at keeping them in the past, you can begin working on a meaningful goal, too.  After all, with your Inner Critic on hiatus, wouldn’t everyone be in your corner if you did?


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16 Responses to When Your Inner Critic is on Steroids

  1. Lori Hoeck January 16, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    So true! –”we talk to ourselves in ways we would never dream of speaking to another” — it’s like we need self defense from our Inner Critic. So many lesson to unlearn, yes?

    I’m really looking forward to the release of our collaboration on narcissism. It is both a wake up call and a powerful resource that so many need. Soon!
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..You have the right to defend your inner self, too =-.

  2. Hayden Tompkins January 17, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    That picture is absolutely perfect!

    I know that whenever I start using the word “should” that I am speaking with the voice of my inner critic. It’s sooo helpful for me to know that, otherwise I forget to take that information with a giant barrel of salt!
    .-= Hayden Tompkins´s last blog ..Sex and Submission =-.

  3. Hilary January 17, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Hi Betsy and Lori .. I hope that these things don’t impinge anymore – I certainly don’t let them worry me – and can only do what I can achieve today, without stressing myself. Maybe it’s illness of elderly – and I’ve realised I can only do what I can do!

    That’s it really – I’m not a critic of myself on steroids!! Thank goodness for me – sorry everyone – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Turning a team of oxen – any idea how? =-.

  4. Patricia January 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    Betsy and Lori,
    This sounds like a great venture and something worth working on and sharing with others. I used to have a huge inner critic which was fed by my families constant criticism. I am with Hilary that as my family leaves me, I am finding I like myself and what I am telling myself more and more…that patience was always there ….my book group (30-50 yrs) is so harsh on themselves, especially about fashion and their looks…all saving for some kind of plastic surgery and being critical of all the “breast jobs” at the gym since the new year….they seem to be attempting to imitate weak egos?

    Such good writing…I think we need this
    .-= Patricia´s last blog ..The Centerpiece =-.

  5. Wendi Kelly~Life's Little Inspirations January 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Hi Betsy,

    Our Self-Talk can be our best or our worst friend, no doubt about it! The better job we do of listening in to what that little voice is saying and then getting an Internal Editor to make some positive changes in the way we allow ourselves to talk to ourselves the better off we do.

    This is a great reminder! I’m looking forward to the release of what I know will be an exceptional book! And very much needed.

  6. Betsy Wuebker January 18, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    Hi Lori – Yes, what a paradox! “Trust yourself and your instincts.” “Keep your Inner Critic in its place.” You really have to know how to walk that narrow path. And yes, I can’t wait either! :)

    Hi Hayden – I looked in vain for one with the little people on each shoulder. “Sure, you’d be great at that!” “No, you wouldn’t!” Isn’t it the truth about shoulds? Too often they signify we have little to no buy-in on the subject. Thanks.

    Hi Hilary – Very true! The older we get the more comfortable we are with ourselves, and not so dependent upon the assessments (perceived or real) of others. It’s IDGAS syndrome, as we said at a place I worked: “I Don’t Give A S—” :)

    Hi Patricia – Interesting observation about how it takes everyone a different amount of time to settle “into their skin.” On the one hand, my daughter arrived in that state. On the other hand, it is so exciting to see someone of a certain age discover how comfortable they can be with themselves. Thank you.

    Hi Wendi – Welcome to PassingThru! You’re right in describing the balancing act. It’s not as though the negative voice isn’t routed in an issue that could be improved. It’s just that we create a sense of “can deal with it” and neutralize the “you are not enough” interpretation. Thank you for your kind comments on the project, too. :)

  7. Davina January 19, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    Hi Betsy and Lori.
    The trick with this darn inner critic is to catch it in the act early on. Those voices can drone on and on and become an unconscious patten. I’ve had days where I’ve been in the most rotten mood and then suddenly it hits me. Negative thoughts have been chattering away and I’ve been believing them. It takes practice, and good listening skills… that’s for sure.
    .-= Davina´s last blog ..I Find Stillness =-.

  8. Dot January 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    One thing that works for me is to identify the source of my Inner Critic on this particular subject, whatever it may be, and then evaluate the usefulness of that person’s criticisms. In most cases, my worst self-criticisms echo my mother’s criticisms of me, but at times it’s another relative or even a bad teacher. Then I can say, “Oh, my mother was the one who thought I couldn’t draw, and she was wrong because she was overly critical and also she always compared me to my sister, who was more talented.” Now that I’m conscious of where the Inner Critic got that criticism, I can see that it’s of no value. Interesting subject!
    .-= Dot´s last blog ..Comment on Dollop by Mike Goad =-.

  9. Joanna Young January 20, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    I’m not sure ‘enjoyed’ is the right word for my reaction to this piece – shuddered maybe, as I thought about the evil work my inner critic can do when on steroids (too often for my liking… I wonder if it’s in response to the new stuff I keep pushing and testing?)

    But I wanted to say thanks for writing and sharing it, because I think it’s something really important for us to learn about.

    One question / reflection I had – do you think blogging, including the reading of other blogs makes the relationship with the inner critic harder or healthier? In some ways I find I get help to deal with it (as I learn I’m not alone) but I also think perhaps he’s fed by the tomes of well-meaning advice out there, whispering a litany of ‘shoulds’ that otherwise might not be there.

    Just wondering what you / your wonderful readers thought about this?

  10. Hilary January 20, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Hi Joanna and Betsy .. Joanna your question stood out at a time when I had a minute or two .. I definitely learn from the comments made – however I differentiate to where I’m at .. ie I simply cannot do somethings, though I’m sure later on I will – I try and take on board the things that are helpful and ‘hit’ me as the things that I know I’m not good with & those ideas that can improve that side of life. Others I take on board for later, some I just simply can’t think about .. so it’s that filtering system again. We can only deal with so much and one step in all walks of life at a time ..

    Definitely – is what I learn from everyone around .. there’s always snippets that ring bells and help us all ..

    Thank you – it made me set out my shoulds but not always!!
    Enjoy your travels .. Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Turning a team of oxen – any idea how? =-.

  11. Betsy Wuebker January 20, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    Hi Davina – You’re so right about catching the Inner Critic early in the game. Good listening will evaluate the message and discard it if it’s not founded. Do you think we can “teach” our Inner Critic to behave more respectfully? I do. Thanks.

    Hi Dot – I loved your example about equating the message as a repeat of something else you’ve heard from someone whose view wasn’t necessarily one you’d benefit from. It’s important to think, “Now where did I hear that before?” and consider the source, isn’t it? Thank you.

    Hi Joanna – Welcome to PassingThru! I think there’s always an opportunity for the Inner Critic to go rogue when there’s a particularly comparative atmosphere, especially when it’s a situation where we have hesitancy of some fashion. That’s where courage needs to come in, right? And yes, the darker side of Inner Critics is when they go completely rogue, as in the case of narcissism or depression. Like Hayden suggested above, I’ve always viewed “shoulds” as someone else’s goal for me, as well as an expectation they might have. Easier to place the thought in perspective. Thank you.

    Hi Hilary – Thanks for chiming in! “We can only deal with so much and one step in all walks of life at a time” is so true. A healthy perspective will prioritize what we take on by holding things up against our goals, presuming we’ve been reflective and have made some decisions about what is important or not. As you imply, all the better reason to thoughtfully decide where we best spend our energies, what we want to accomplish and why. Thank you.

  12. Jannie Funster January 20, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    Hot dang!! I just started my New Years Resolutions all over, thanks to this. Now, what were my resolutions, again? Hmmm, the only one I can remember or really care to is doing my buttock lifts daily.

    The approach to the inner critic here is a very healthy one, reminds me of the approach to things Chris Edgar espouses, acknowledging the negative stuff and listening to it rather than denying or running away from it.

    Well done post, as usual, Betsy. It’ll be very interesting to see what you and Lori cook up for the download!

  13. Sharon Eden January 23, 2010 at 8:41 am #

    I take the ‘taking tea with your demons’ approach with my inner critic. When it strikes with thoughts I talk directly to it with… ‘Thank you SO much for telling me that and right now I’m…………… ” inserting whatever I’m doing right now this moment like…. ‘and right now I’m writing a blog comment.”

    Acceptance plus bringing my awareness to the now usually works a treat.

    Great article… thank you!
    .-= Sharon Eden´s last blog ..Do Less And Be More =-.

  14. Betsy Wuebker January 23, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    Hi Jannie – I will have to check out what Chris Edgar says while I am doing inspiring buttock lifts, maybe? LOL Thanks for your kind words. Lori and I are very excited.

    Hi Sharon – Welcome to PassingThru! You are so right. Your tactic allows you to remain focused and not be distracted by a self-message that’s irrelevant. Awesome! Thank you.

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