Why It’s Time to Befriend Your Inner Critic
Who are you to do that? You don’t know what you’re doing. What will everyone think? You’ll make a fool of yourself. It’s not worth it! Better to be safe than sorry.
If I had a dollar for every time the voice of my inner critic piped up, I’d own my own bank by now. My guess is you would, too.
No one can escape the inner voice that is often our own worst critic—the one that is constantly urging caution, pointing out our faults and dialing up our fears. But just because we have to live with that voice doesn’t mean we have to listen to it, much less let it determine our decisions and steer the course of our lives. The reality is that although we can’t permanently silence it, we can learn to see it for what it is: the most primal part of our being trying to keep us safe. It just has a rather Neanderthal way of doing it.
The great operatic tenor Enrico Caruso was once struck with stage fright just moments before he was due to walk onstage to perform for thousands of people. As he stood backstage in full costume, overwhelmed and despairing, with perspiration pouring down his face, his throat was paralyzed. Trembling, he said to those near him, “I can’t sing. They will all laugh at me. My career is finished.” He turned around to walk back to his dressing room. Suddenly he stopped. “The Little Me is trying to strangle the Big Me within!” he shouted.
That one moment of courage changed everything. Turning back toward the stage, Caruso lifted his shoulders up straight and with his most powerful voice commanded, “Get out of here!” to the critic in his head. “The Big Me wants to sing through me. Get out, get out, the Big Me is going to sing,” he repeated. He then walked onstage to give one of the finest performances of his career, which later saw him becoming one of the greatest tenors in history.
Your inner critic is just the manifestation of your fear. When it’s at its loudest, it’s simply because it feels the most threatened.
If a little voice in your head has ever told you that you don’t have what it takes and warned you from stepping into the spotlight where you could make a fool of yourself or fail outright, you’re in excellent company.
Although the voice of the Little You can get awfully loud, it’s vitally important to remember that it was wired into our monkey brain back in our cave-dwelling days and wants nothing more than to protect you from pain, rejection, humiliation and harm.
Your inner critic is just the manifestation of your fear. When it’s at its loudest, it’s simply because it feels the most threatened. So although it might not seem like it’s trying to help you, it’s really just afraid you’ll put yourself in a situation that could compromise your safety, security, significance and sense of identity. As psychologist and author Kristin Neff has said, “You don’t want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that it will somehow make you stop beating yourself up.”
You can spend the rest of your life berating your inner critic, or you can decide to befriend it, and then call it out as often as needed. (This will be often.)
Befriending your inner critic might sound counterintuitive, but reframing how you think about your inner gremlin enables you to keep it in its place. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to do what Caruso did: Give it a name.
It doesn’t matter what you call your inner voice of fear, only that it helps you to realize that you are not your fear and that your fear is not you. It is an emotion; it is not reality. And it most certainly does not deserve to be given the power to keep the biggest and best part of you from stepping onto Center Stage in your own life.
Acknowledge its concern with kindness, and then, with all the authority you can muster, let it know who’s in the driver’s seat.
When the Little You is at its loudest, speak to it as you would anyone whose deep concern for you made them worry about you doing something silly (like an overprotective parent). You acknowledge its concern with kindness, and then, with all the authority you can muster, let it know who’s in the driver’s seat.
As you step toward whatever it is that tugs at your heart, just remember that as a human being, your desire for safety will always pull against your desire for growth, between what scares you most and what inspires you most. As I write in Make Your Mark: A Guidebook for the Brave Hearted, by consciously choosing to risk the very failure that scares you, can you ever come to know how brilliant, capable and worthy you truly are.
So next time that little voice pipes up, thank it for trying to spare you the pain of humiliation or the sting of rejection, and then take a brave step forward in its presence. The life you yearn for most is riding on you putting your weight behind the Big You. Again and again and again.