We all have an inner critic: The voice that criticizes you (Why did you do that?), the voice that replays conversations in your head (What were you thinking?), the voice that tells you that you’re not good enough (This sentence you just wrote—it sucks.).
In the personal development space, the inner critic has a terrible reputation. One book calls it the “asshole who lives inside my head.” Another calls it the “enemy within.”
The message is clear: Quiet your inner critic, shut down the asshole, and banish it once and for all so it can’t ever bother you again.
Here’s the thing: This approach doesn’t work—at least not for me, but I suspect for others as well.
When I kick my inner critic to the curb, it doesn’t go away. It starts doing push-ups. It starts downing Red Bulls. It then comes back, roaring louder than ever—because no one is listening to it.
The solution? Instead of trying to silence your inner critic, start engaging with it.
Here’s the thing: Your inner critic serves a valuable purpose. It’s there to challenge you, to spot potential problems, and to introduce doubt. Without an inner critic, we’d stop caring and grow complacent. We couldn’t perform at our best.
Listening to your inner critic doesn’t mean doing everything it says. Think of the inner critic as the devil’s advocate in your head. It’s there to push and prod you, but don’t let it mock you or dictate your direction. You’re in control. When it steps out of bounds with destructive self-talk, respond with a simple, “I hear you, thank you for your opinion, but you can relax. I’m on top of it.”
As woo-woo as it sounds, our inner critic needs love, just like the rest of us. This means becoming curious about the messages it’s sending you. It means asking your inner critic, “What are you afraid of? What can I do to help?” (Yes, this entails talking to yourself, and yes, it seems really bizarre, but it works).
Once you understand what the inner critic fears, you can assume responsibility for dealing with those fears. And once the inner critic knows you’re taking action, it won’t feel as anxious—and will be free to use its powers in more constructive ways.
It’s only when I started embracing, rather than hating, my inner critic that I was able to tame the beast. It’s no longer frothing at the mouth getting ready to bulldoze me. It’s now lying by my side, ready to serve as a trusted guardian and teacher.
Yes, it’s still making lots of comments—often critical ones. But the quality of the interaction is completely different. My curious engagement with the inner critic brings out its best messages, instead of its worst.
The fighting and the name calling—they don’t work. Calling parts of you “bad” or “rotten” exacerbates the very problem it tries to solve. The hate for your inner critic ends up extending to other parts of you. You lose compassion for yourself, and you in turn lose compassion for other people as well.
Perhaps it’s a mistake to call this part “the inner critic,” which has all sorts of negative connotations. If you don’t like the name, give it a new name. You can call it the inner guardian, the inner challenger, or the inner contrarian.
The next time you’re tempted to banish your inner critic, resist the urge and give it a big hug instead.
Once you start befriending it, instead of hating it, it’ll gradually transform from an adversary to an ally.
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