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?