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Transforming Our Inner Critic

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 23, 2015

Everybody has an inner voice and it can help you think and guide your decision making. But what happens when that voice turns critical? In moderation, this can be helpful and even motivating. We can turn towards these critical voices, give them space, and find out what they are worried about so that we can release and relax. But, when that inner voice turns into a pessimistic monologue stuck on repeat or it multiplies into a whole committee of negative members, then issues arise.

The most common issue that results from an overactive inner critic is the impostor syndrome. The impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people are unable to internalize their own accomplishments. They see their success as chance luck or good timing. They believe that in time, others will recognize what they believe to be true – that they are not smart enough and that, in fact, they are a fraud.

Sound familiar? It probably does, because this syndrome afflicts many scientists and many well-accomplished individuals. As an example, Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou reportedly said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

Luckily, Angelou continued to write in spite of her inner critic. Take inspiration from her and begin to act on ways you can overcome your own inner critic.

Remember Your Achievements
Superstitious thinking often fuels the cycle of impostor syndrome, so think about your top three accomplishments. What are you the most proud of? Write these achievements down and then go into detail about everything you did in order to reach that goal. Be detailed and don’t be modest.

Reframe Self-Doubt Statements
“I can’t do anything right!” Respond to critical statements like this with a less universal and kinder viewpoint such as, “I had a rough day today; I hope tomorrow is better.” Take this a step further and instead of saying something vague like “I’ve had a rough day,” state the observation.  This is exactly what happened to me at this time/date/place. Observation is the highest form of communication and it can help lower the intensity of the emotion around that event.

Positive Affirmations
Saturday Night Live was on to something when they did skits featuring Stuart Smalley and his mantra “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” Come up with your own positive affirmations to combat moments when self-doubt pops into your head. It might take time to figure out the source of your self-doubt, but then create an affirmation that will directly combat that.

A helpful and free guided meditation podcast called “Getting Bigger than What Bugs You” can be found at Focusing Resources. Talking to mentors, peers, career counselors and therapists can also help immensely. You will most likely find out that you are not alone. You will never be able to fully silence your inner critic but hopefully, in time, you can turn down the volume.

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