Honestly speaking her mind to a friend sent her inner critic into a tizzy. “Who do you think you are? What will people think of you? You are too strident. Too divisive. Too critical. You might hurt people’s feelings.”

She thinks these things constantly so, over the past few years, she has just kept quiet. She doesn’t say what she thinks. She smiles and doesn’t make waves. But clamming up has also tied her up. She is afraid to move. She is frustrated. She is insecure.

She is also fed up. She has things to say. She has read a lot and listened carefully. She sees problems and wants to help, but she has lost any voice that she once had. She wants to have an audible voice again and be able to communicate ideas clearly and effectively. She desires to be influential and make a difference. If only that voice in her head would just stop judging her.

Is your inner critic is a mean, bullying voice that seems to loom over you? Do you think these things about yourself?

  • I’m so stupid.
  • I can’t believe you just said that! Now everyone will know just how stupid you are.
  • Nobody likes you.
  • You’re too fat (or old or dumb) to do that.
  • I hate you!
  • You’ll never get it. You never get it right and you never will.
  • Whatever made you think that you could do this?

You may not only think these things about yourself, but you may also imagine that other people are thinking negative, critical things about you, too.

The truth is, not everyone is thinking about other people because they are too busy judging themselves, judgments which they project onto other people, causing them to be extremely critical towards others. They may judge what others are doing as wrong, according to their way of thinking and their own set standards.

There are two ways people can negatively speak about others that compensate for their own insecurities and apparent lack of worth.

The first way is to gossip about others to make others look bad.

The other way is to brag about themselves to make themselves look good.

Attacking and criticizing others to make yourself look better inflates you with a false sense of importance and social standing.

This all stems from a belief that you are not good enough, which is unnecessary because you are good enough just as you are. You are valuable and have great worth. You are capable of bringing good to those around you.

Criticism vs. Critique

The definition of criticism is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. It is an analysis and judgment of other people’s merits and faults.

A critique, on the other hand, is simply a detailed analysis and assessment of something.

In a way, criticism and critique are very much alike. What differentiates them, however, is the attitude and judgment that are being placed on the opinions and analysis of people and situations.

How do you know which is which? Harmful criticism disparages, dismisses, ridicules, and condemns. If someone or something makes you feel less worthy and devalued, then that is a critical, judgmental spirit within you and others.

Years ago I decided to record myself on the trumpet so that I can get a different perspective on my playing. When I first started doing this, I perceived the recording device to be much like an audience. Like a live person who was negatively judging every single note I played. “That note is flat. That passage is not expressive enough. You missed too many notes. Your tone was fuzzy there. Wow, you are such a crappy trumpet player! I thought you were a better player than that!” It was painful. My inner critic was brutal.

The simple truth was this – that note was flat. I did miss some notes. My tone was fuzzy. This was an honest assessment of my playing at the time. I was taping myself in order to hear these things so that I could become a better trumpet player.

The problem wasn’t the honest critique, but the attitude and words I used when I spoke to myself. Words which were critical, hurtful, and harmful. They made me feel like I was not enough. That I was incompetent. They made me feel hopeless. The harm didn’t come form what was happening externally – the music that was coming out of my trumpet – but internally – the criticism and mean words that I was using when I was speaking to myself.

Because my inner critic was so brutal, it put into a stress state, which shut down my prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes good decisions. This meant that I couldn’t read music as quickly as I would have had I been in a relaxed state. The stress brought tension into my body, which made me miss notes and lose focus.

Being aware of the negativity, I was able to recognize what was happening and break free from my inner critic. Eventually, I was able to compliment myself on my playing. “That sounded really good! Well done!” This helped me to relax and have more grace. It also gave me a better perspective on not only my trumpet playing but on my life, in general.

If your inner critic is keeping you stuck and pursuing your dreams by taking risks, you can do something about this. You can become less competitive and more compassionate. The more awareness you have of your inner critic, the more empowered you are to do something about it. Awareness is the first step towards change.

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