One of the most insidious aspects of personality or ego that I’ve come across in my career as a coach, is the critical inner voice that hides deep within each of us. Distinct from your intuition, which is helpful in its guidance in your leadership and life, Sarita Chawla, in this video shares how the inner critic can misguide by keeping you small or holding you back.
It’s the inner voice that goes beyond constructive to be cruel and mean. It says “You’re not good enough”, “That was stupid”, “No one will like you” or “Work harder – you’re lazy”.
I think about the effects it’s having – on leaders, team members, their families, their communities and even on a global scale. I imagine the possibility of a world where the mind is naturally kind in its orientation, rather than being naturally negatively oriented, as the author of Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hansen Ph.D., reminds us.
The inner critic, or the superego as described by A.H. Almaas in the workbook called “Working on the SuperEgo”, is a psychological construct – merely a thought. It develops in your mind when, as a child, you get a reaction where you feel shut down or shamed. It’s too painful for you to experience this reaction from those who love you; so your mind creates a critical voice internally and you begin to criticize yourself first, which is less painful.
The Inner Critic feeds the individual and collective painbody and thus perpetuates negative energy in the world. Eckhart Tolle talks about the unresolved, unhealed energy as the pain body in his blog post in the Huffington Post (Eckhart Tolle, “Living in Presence with your emotional painbody”, Huffington Post, 10/6/2010.)
“There is such a thing as old emotional pain living inside you. It is an accumulation of painful life experience that was not fully faced and accepted in the moment it arose. It leaves behind an energy form of emotional pain. It comes together with other energy forms from other instances, and so after some years you have a “painbody,” an energy entity consisting of old emotion.”
What can you do about it? How can you take a holiday from your Inner Critic to be more effective in your relationships with yourself and others? At work and home?
There’s HOPE! It is possible to change the impact the critic has, and it’s worth the investment of your time.
I’ve been aware of and actively engaging with my Inner Critic for the past 10 years and here are a few things I’ve found that help, whether you are a front line employee, a volunteer, a Board member or an Executive:
- Cultivate resiliency. It will help to keep your inner critic at bay. As an example, on the days that you have had a good sleep, eaten the right foods to build your energy rather than drain it, completed a short meditation practice to quiet your mind, you’ll notice you have much more perspective and can more easily let go of the critical voice.
- Stop the cycle. As quickly as you become aware of the messages when they arise, become aware of what it’s saying, how it feels, and then see it for what it is. It’s just a thought – one you can choose in the moment to let go of.
- Self-manage to choose a more balanced thought. Byron Katie’s groundbreaking work on the inner critic, focuses on reframing in the moment using 4 simple questions:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
And then practice awareness to feel into your body. Notice the difference between how the old statement and the new one feel. Do you feel constricted or spacious? Do you feel heavy or lighter? Noticing the positive feelings will help to re-hardwire your brain for a more balanced internal voice. Check out the groundbreaking book by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., called Buddha’s Brain for the practice neuroscience behind banishing the inner critic.
- Take a holiday from your inner critic. For some, it’s helpful to be compassionate with the voice, once they become aware of where it came from (well-meaning parents, teachers or others who influenced us). For others they need to scream at it inside their mind (and sometimes out loud if they are in a place where they can yell), for others it’s about laughing at it, as they realize how it no longer fits with their quest to be their authentic or best self.
- Imagine what your leadership and life would be like with out it. Reflect on how much energy you spend on managing your inner critic currently. There’s a correlation between how critical you are of your self and how critical you are with others. How different would your life be if you spent just 10% less time on it? How is your inner critic impacting your team? Your peers? What would you do (or not do) with that unleashed energy and time?
- Practice daily. Talk to yourself like you talk to your best friend. It says it all. Be kinder to you and you’ll be kinder to others.
Imagine your organization if all employees were able to let go of their inner critics more of the time – that’s the world I’m striving for.
Tana Heminsley is a Mentor and Executive Coach at ViRTUS, specializing in emotional intelligence, authentic leadership, strategic planning, change management, leadership development, and executive coaching.