I don’t know what’s going on inside your heads, but if it’s anything like mine and others I know – it houses a chattering inner critic. A voice that tells me all the ways I could be better. Or how much I could improve. Or reminds me of all the ways I’m not quite enough.
On one hand, the inner critic is great! It fuels us to achieve the excellent and ambitious. Like writing my talk last week.
On the other hand, that inner critic is a total asshole. An unwelcome houseguest. A confidence-sucking vampire. A heartless drillmaster reminding us of our million imperfections.
When we excitedly set a goal or attempt to realize an ambition, and God forbid we fall short – or fall behind or fall over – our inner critic is the first one to chime in and beat us down further. Suddenly our goal has the opposite effect : we feel worse than we did before setting it.
I recently read an article sharing psychological research on the mindset of people who follow through on their goals. One of the author’s tips was “Learn to be kind to yourself.”
Trying to hush or ignore our inner critic seems like smart advice – one way to be kinder to ourselves. The problem is we go about it the wrong way: “I just need to stop thinking this way. I just need to shut that voice up.” Sounds like inner critic speak. That sneaky bastard taking the helm once again.
Author and depth psychologist Bill Plotkin has a name for voices like the Inner Critic: Subpersonalities. Other common Subs (for short) include: our Inner Flatterer who might tell us we’re the best or above everyone else; The Pleaser or The Giving Tree who might prioritize people pleasing and selflessly giving – not from a place of love and abundance, but from a lack of self-worth and fear of inadequacy or abandonment.
These voices – the Subs – aren’t all bad news. They’re largely the reason we’re still alive and functioning members of society today. They kept us safe growing up.
“Subpersonalities form in childhood with the purpose of helping us survive and to be accepted in our families and communities. They protect us by getting us to live small or safe versions of ourselves. They protect us physically and socially by suppressing our natural magnificence and wholeness, which are often an annoyance or threat to our families and communities. Early in life our consciousness and behavior is dominated by our subpersonalities.”
Subs stick around into adulthood, still hellbent on keeping us safe. Unfortunately they also keep us small. Once our well-intentioned guardians, Subs become the saboteurs of our true human adulthood.
A couple years ago at his Soulcraft workshop, Plotkin taught us a trick for dealing with our the inner critic:
First, acknowledge and thank the voice. “I hear you. Thank you for trying to keep me safe.”
Next, instead of trying to quiet or get rid of the voice, simply place it somewhere else. “I actually got this one, thanks. I’m going to put you on the back shelf for now.” And then you pretend to physically place that voice behind you on a shelf.
Finally, deploy the voice onto a new task. “However, I could really use your services elsewhere – can you help me make this presentation as powerful as can be?”
One the shortest but most memorable books I’ve read is called Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. It takes less than an afternoon to read, but it’s stuck with me for years. My favorite quote from it:
“This is a practice. You don’t go to the gym once and consider yourself done. Same here. Meditation is a practice. Working out is a practice. Loving yourself, perhaps the most important of all, is a practice.”
Thanking and redeploying that Inner Critic – and any of the well-meaning Subs and voices – is also a practice.
After all, that Inner Critic is only doing his or her job. And so we, as budding adults, must continue to do ours.