Everyone of us has an inner critic. The voice that just refuses to die in our heads. The very things that destroy our self-esteem, bit by bit, chipping away at our self-worth. Playing its negative, demeaning, discouraging tapes on loop.
Constantly telling you, that you are not enough, not worthy, not smart enough, not pretty enough.
It’s never enough for the inner critic. And it wants to convince you that you are not enough for you, either.
There are different types of inner critics that we all wrestle with our entire lives, but these 2 are standouts. They might have lived in your head at some point in time, or are currently residing in your head.
Let’s shine the spotlight on them today.
What is your inner critic?
A quick rundown on what an inner critic is: The inner critic is a term used in psychology fields to describe a “subpersonality” that demeans and puts down a person.
It is usually associated with or brings up feelings of shame and guilt and makes the individual feel bad, worthless, inadequate, small and is a big contributor to low self-esteem.
How do you recognise your inner critic?
Your inner critic isn’t hard to recognise – or it could be if you’re already so used to it and normalised its voice and its silly negative tapes. It always leaves behind the tell-tale negative signals to remind you of how not-worthy you are.
I know when my inner critic has made an appearance when a bad thought occurs to me and I feel a sort of sinking feeling in the pits of my gut. I also stop breathing (observe your breath some day, many of us aren’t good at breathing fully and frequently).
Your inner critic is constantly there to remind you how badly you’ve faired and how bad at stuff you are. It constantly holds you back. It tells you, you will fail when you’ve not even tried. It keeps you in the past, and never allows you to reach your potential.
What are the 2 most common critics living in our heads?
The psychology literature has identified a number of inner critics, some of which go by different names. You’ve probably heard of The Shamer, The Guilter, The Judge and so on. There are many different archetypes, and they may act alone or together. Let’s now take a look at two of the most common ones.
#1 The Perfectionist
The underlying belief of The Perfectionist is that you are not good-enough and people will only take notice of you if you are perfect. Many of us suffer under The Perfectionist’s hand.
And this usually starts young – you may have grown up with parents who always had very high expectations of you – be it behaviour-wise or with regards to school achivements. You may have had very critical teachers in school.
You can probably identify some instances when you were growing up where you were judged for being less than. This could have been along the lines of “you don’t look good enough”, or “you aren’t getting straight A’s so you aren’t worthy of my love”, or getting criticised no matter what you do.
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The biggest problem with the perfectionist is that it always is tied into people-pleasing behaviour or putting people on a pedestal. You constantly feel like you need to achieve a goal or some level of pre-determined success to be liked or considered worthy by them.
So what are some incidents in childhood that might have occurred that resulted in The Perfectionist appearing in your life?
Your experiences with authority and at school
Growing up, I always felt unworthy at school mostly because of the teachers I had. I remembered a form teacher when I was 9 years old who would give perks to her favourites in class – they either did extremely well in her tests or were very well-behaved, according to her standards of course. These girls were allowed to skip classes and do fun things like set up our reading corner or organise something. I remember feeling very left out and very unworthy. The message I got was – only well-behaved students got to be rewarded.
Being from a very religious school with teachers who were at least 2 generations older than me also meant that they had very fixed ideas of how girls should behave. Girls had to be prim and proper and quiet, and those who behaved in this manner were always rewarded.
When I was younger, though I couldn’t really articulate what I truly felt, I always had a general sense that I didn’t quite fit in as my personality wasn’t considered acceptable. I was playful, exuberant and disliked following rules (still do). And that is not worthy in those teachers’ eyes.
The culture you grew up in
The culture that you grew up in or are living in also has alot to do with how you perceive your worth. I grew up in a society that has a very narrow definition of success – only those who had good grades in school, studied in prestigious schools or worked in “prestigious” institutions/industries were considered successful. The rest? Hmm.
I wasn’t someone that had alot of interest in rote memorising and regurgitation during exams – the definition of the education system where I live, hence did not do consistently well. I always felt like I disappointed my mum in particular. This led to a lifelong habit of people-pleasing – pleasing friends, teachers, parents, professors, and when I ventured out into the working world – bosses and more senior colleagues. It took a longggg time to kick this silly habit.
Do you have similar experiences from your childhood?
Struggling with your self-esteem? Just can’t seem to feel good about yourself and your life no matter what you do? Don’t feel you are deserving or love, opportunities, luck and abundance? Do you struggle to speak and live your truth because you are afraid of judgment? Come drop your question in 100 words over here, and I will write back with some solutions 🙂
Then when you reach adulthood, you face a whole slew of other situations that The Perfectionist just lovesss to feed on and further chip away at your self esteem.
First, your looks! Men suffer from this too, but if you are a women reading this, can you say that you have never, NOT ONCE, ever looked at your face and body and thought that we looked ugly, if a body part looked better, we’d feel better etc?
I grew up not really liking my face or body. I’m of mixed ethnicity, so am not considered beautiful by the narrow definition of beauty standards here. Though I’m a lot more confident about my looks now, it took awhile to get to where I am at now and to ignore what other people thought of my face, of how I dressed etc.
When you are a perfectionist, it may spill over into relationships where you feel like you don’t ever deserve your partner because you don’t have the perfect look, intelligence or personality trait. You may be waiting for the perfect partner or relationship to come your way.
Once you are in a romantic relationship, you may have very high unachievable goals for your partner, as a result you may find yourself constantly unhappy. Or, you could be a people pleaser, constantly pleasing your partner at the expanse of your happiness and finding that you never match up no matter what.
Whatever you choose as your career – be it running your own business or working at a corporation. You might feel like you are never good enough just cause you don’t have all the competencies the company is looking for. Whilst looking for jobs, you may pass over JDs where you feel you qualify for only 60-75% of the competencies asked for.
You may never step up at work and may hide your capabilities, not willing to show them. You never ask for a pay raise or a promotion like your colleagues do, because you think – you won’t get them anyway, why risk it.
Do all these sound familiar?
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#2 The Limiter
At the heart of the limiter is risk aversion and a fear of mistakes. You are afraid to try something new or afraid to venture out of your comfort zone because you fear uncertainty. You need predictability, security and stability before you do anything.
Your parents and authority figures
The Limiter comes about possibly due to overly fearful parents, who have passed on their fear to you, either by outwardly discouraging you from doing certain things or telling you that things are dangerous. You may have been punished when you made mistakes or when you tried something new, making you gravitate to a safer option.
The Limiter is constantly evaluating life from a space of security. It mostly tends to over-emphasise the danger of many situations. As a result?
You are kept small. You find yourself crippled with anxiety when you so much as venture a little out of your comfort zone. You stick to routines and situations and people which feel familiar. Every single time you try something new, it’s as if your inner critic slaps you on the wrist and reminds you that you cannot survive in unfamiliar territory, so there’s no point trying. Your self-esteem is chipped away over time.
At toxic workplaces
I see The Limiter rear it’s ugly head alot with people who are working in toxic workplaces and cannot bear to leave. They are so unhappy at their workplace, that it is eating into their physical and mental health, yet they cannot find it within themselves to let go, take a risk and find something better.
Struggling with gender roles in society
This is especially so for women. Whenever I chat with my female clients, alot of them (me included) struggle with the roles that society has put on us as women vs what we want to do with our lives.
The Limiter plays an active role in this, determining what we should and should not do by undermining our efforts and predicting catastrophe. We are always discouraged from doing exactly what we want as The Limiter works to tell us that it is not possible or that society will frown on us if we ever thought of trying.
The indecisiveness that plagues most of life
Another thing The Limiter causes is loads of anxiety and indecisiveness. You will find yourself veering from one decision to another, unable to make a solid choice. Analysis paralysis is good pals with The Limiter, ensuring that you can never be sure of the choices you make.
The constant veering and indecisiveness will be accompanied by much stress and anxiety. You will also feel absolutely emotionally drained whenever you have to made decisions – caused by this indecisiveness.
The Limiter does this alot by thriving on a lot of “What if” statements to keep you small. “Oh, what if you leave and it is worse out there?” “What if you end up failing?” “What if you find yourself less happy than before?”
Realise that these are probability statements. The Limiter has no idea if you will succeed or fail, but chooses to focus on the possibility of failure, which only has a 50% chance of happening.
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Does The Perfectionist & The Limiter reside in your head? If they do, you aren’t alone. I’ve found that what works for me over the years, have been actively and consciously talking back to my inner critic whenever it discourages me to do something.
It has been a very long and sometimes tiring journey, but it’s all worth it! My self-esteem has been in the best place it has ever been in my life.
If you’ll like to learn more about your self-esteem, how it works and how we can get rid of your pesky inner critic, do sign up for the 5 day Build Your Self-Esteem Email Challenge above, where I share some tips and tools you can use to start levelling up your self-esteem today!