How to Make Your Inner Critic Work for You

Businesswoman with bow and arrow point to success

Ugh, Inner Critics. No-one knows better how to bring us down, put us in our place and make us feel worthless. They stop us in our tracks by telling us we are stupid, we won’t achieve, we are not ‘enough’ for whatever it is we are striving for.


Like persistent mosquitoes, we swat them away but they keep coming back.


But why on earth do we have them? In the animal kingdom, you can’t imagine a lion or tiger doubting whether or not they should go in for the kill. A gazelle probably doesn’t think, ‘hmm, I don’t think I’m skilled enough to make that leap’.


Similarly, a rooster doesn’t doubt it’s his absolute place to be number one in the chicken coop. But animals do have highly honed instincts through their senses about danger and, of course, go to great lengths to avoid it.


Inner Critics are Like Overbearing Parents


When you think about it, Inner Critics are there not necessarily because they want us to feel bad but because, in some way, they are trying to protect us from danger. They often just over-react like a helicopter parent.


For example:

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Inner Critic: ‘You’re not qualified for that job so don’t even attempt it’

Meaning: ‘I don’t want you to get upset if you don’t get what you want’


Inner Critic: ‘You’d be stupid to say anything’

Meaning: ‘It’s not worth the risk of making a fuss’


Inner Critic: ‘You are in the wrong and everyone else is right’

Meaning: ‘I don’t want you to be different, just stick with everyone else and go with the flow.’


Essentially, Inner Critics are often trying to stop us from taking risks, saving us from ridicule, trying to keep us safe because they worry that we will come to harm.


The issue is that, like an overbearing parent who loves us and wants to wrap us up in cotton wool, they are keeping us small, cooped up, unable to dare, learn and grow.


So, what are some practical steps you can take to tackle them?


Treat them like an elderly relative who loves you


The next time you find yourself in negative self-talk just stop and take stock. Listen as if you were indulging an elderly, somewhat old-fashioned relative. Really examine what it is they are saying and why. What it is they are trying to protect you from? Show that thought or intention some compassion. Do they have any point at all? And how can you allay their fears for you? For example:


Inner Critic: ‘You’re not qualified for that job so don’t even attempt it’

Meaning: ‘I don’t want you to get upset if you don’t get what you want’

Your answer back: ‘I understand you are worried that I will get upset and I appreciate your concern, but I have worked hard for this promotion and am qualified in this way and that and if I don’t try, I won’t ever know if I could do it or not.’


Personify them – give them a name


It can help to identify all your Inner Critics and give them each a name and imagine what they look like, how they are dressed, what they sound like.


For example, when I was starting a new venture in an area I hadn’t done before and it was quite a risk, I had an Inner Critic who I called Waynetta. I pictured her wearing an old gray tracksuit, sitting on the sofa drinking tea and eating biscuits telling me, ‘You’ll never earn any money out of that so don’t bother’. If she had her way, she’d have me give up and not try…


With one lady I coached who’d just had a promotion and was struggling with her new role we found that she had Little Miss Perfect Inner Critic who was super-efficient and just, well – perfect at everything she did. Little Miss Perfect kept telling her she was useless in this new role because she wasn’t doing it perfectly.


Our tactic was to tell Little Miss Perfect that her role now was to step up and come up with solutions on how to be perfect in the new role. And that worked! Instead of that Inner Critic picking fault, she was focused on becoming perfect in the new role. It was transformative.


What is the Value the Inner Critic is trying to Protect?


Sometimes an inner critic is a value that you hold dear that has been greatly overplayed. For me, one of the things that matters is financial security. I hate to feel out of control with finances. So, when I really worked on it, I figured out that my Inner Critic Waynetta in saying, ‘Don’t bother, it’s going to be too hard’ was really wanting to shout, ‘I’m worried about financial security!!! What happens if we end up with no money!!! Alert, Alert!!”


I also have another one who says ‘You are greedy’. That one is factually correct. But I’m not really overweight so why should it matter? When I looked deeper, I realised that it was because one of my values is Health and Nutrition and doing the best for my body.


The reason my Inner Critic was strong here is because by being indulgent with chocolate and the life, I was not honouring that value of Health and Nutrition.


So ask yourself, is your Inner Critic really a value you hold dear gone to an extreme?


Truly See yourself through other’s eyes


One of the steps to getting to grips with your Inner Critic and negative self-talk is to start believing the good things people say about you and the compliments you receive. It’s not easy sometimes.


It’s human nature to ignore the 9 lovely things you are told and focus entirely on the 1 piece of criticism you got. And beat yourself up about it. We have a laser-like focus on what isn’t right instead of enjoying all the things that are.


The next time someone compliments you at work, try truly accepting it and believing it. Accept that that the version of you that they see is real.


One practical way of continuing this is to get some real honest feedback from colleagues or friends about how they see you. Ask them to describe you in one word. You can do this through an anonymous survey if they (or you!) are squeamish, but most should be happy to do this.


Collate that list of words. Stand up either in the privacy of your own home or in front of the mirror and say, ‘I am’ and then each of the words. So, ‘I am generous’, ‘I am empowering’, ‘I am wise’.


If you have asked them to be truly honest then accept this is true description of who you are to them. And the next time your Inner Critic has a go, use that evidence to clap back.

About the Author

Tracy Forsyth is an Executive Coach, Creator of ‘Yoga in the Boardroom’ workshop and Wellbeing Columnist for TBI Vision. In addition, she is Creative Mentor for the Channel 4 Growth Fund advising production companies on growth strategy and the Women in Film & TV Mentoring Scheme Producer for mid-career women. She is a professionally certified Co-Active Executive Coach working with high potential talent in leadership positions and a qualified 200hr Yoga Teacher. YouTube:



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