Most of us spend years trying to avoid, please, or attack our inner Critics (think you don’t have a “Critic”? Think again–denial that it exists often means it’s exerting even more power over you!).
We avoid our Critics when we try to ignore them. We “please” our Critics when we try to be perfect in the hopes that the Critic’s voice won’t pipe up. We attack our Critics when we tell them to “shut up” or say we’re going to “kick fear’s ass.” This isn’t effective–if it was, it would have worked, by now.
If the idea of being in conflict with this Critic voice for the rest of your life sounds exhausting or unappealing, then there’s some good news: Learning to listen without attachment to the Critic will be the game-changer. When you’re feeling pulled into the fears of the Critic, slowing down to listen without attachment prepares you to tune in and really listen to what your Critic is saying.
When you “listen without attachment,” you’re listening to the Critic’s actual words, which is—no lie—uncomfortable. But, you’re not just listening. You’re listening without attachment. You’re consciously deciding not to get attached to what the Critic says. I compare it to if you encountered a drunk person on the street who was insisting that you’re a bad person. You might hear the words the person was saying, but you’d ultimately decide not to lend any authority to his words.
Why Internalized Critics Exist
Here’s the big “secret” about the Critic: The Critic is invested in a fear routine, and it won’t go away just because we want it to for one simple reason: It thinks that by criticizing you, it’s protecting you.
Underneath the condescension, shape-shifting, malicious logic, yelling, berating, and intimidation, the Critic is, in fact, scared. It’s scared of change and it’s scared of doing things differently. It’s scared of living differently, of experiencing rejection, of dealing with failure. The Critic is not out to get you. It’s wounded and it’s trying to protect from future wounding. It’s from that wounded place of fear that the Critic starts to criticize you, hoping that if you stay in the old, familiar routines, you’ll be safe from any harm.
If you believe what the Critic says and you back down from what you really want, then you never take the risks that come with taking a chance on your biggest dreams. For your Critic, that short-term safety is worth it. Now you get to decide if it’s worth it to keep believing what the Critic tells you or if it’s time to change.
Listen Without Attachment + Then? Re-Do, Please
In my book, The Courage Habit, I offer readers a break down of the tool, “Re-Do, Please” (it’s also available as an audio bonus!). It’s a tool that I learned from my own coach, Matthew Marzel, and it’s the most effective approach for listening without attachment to what your Critic says, without going into avoiding, pleasing, or attacking.
When it says something negative to you, you can (kindly) say to the Critic, “Re-do, please. I’m open to hearing what you have to say, but it needs to be phrased, respectfully.”
In The Courage Habit, I share Taylor’s story:
When Taylor first began practicing this with the things her Critic said, it sounded something like this:
Critic: “How is a client ever going to hire you if you sound like an idiot?”
Taylor: (After taking a breath and accessing the body), would say to her Critic: “Re-do, please. I’m open to hearing what you’re saying, but I need you to respectfully rephrase that.”
Taylor’s Critic didn’t automatically become chipper and positive when she asked the Critic to communicate respectfully. It said things like: “That’s bullshit. I’m not a liar. No client will hire you if you sound like an idiot, and that’s just the truth.” As long as the Critic’s tone or words were not respectful, Taylor would respond with: “Re-do, please. I’m open to hearing this, but it must be respectful. Re-do, please.”
Taylor’s Critic didn’t give up right away. It responded with softening its words, but still sounding unsupportive: “Whatever. It’s just not a smart move to quit your day job when you’re that nervous on the phone. That’s a basic part of this whole freelance thing, and you can’t handle it.”
Whenever Taylor’s Critic shifted slightly but still remained critical, Taylor would speak to that: “I see how you shifted the words, yet this still isn’t supportive. I need us to speak to each other in a way that is supportive and respectful. Perhaps you might tell me what you’re most afraid of? Re-do, please.”
Listen Without Attachment + Stay Consistent
When I work with clients and when I’m teaching people the life coaching skill-set, I remind them that in the same way your internalized Critic has been around for awhile, it won’t go away, immediately.
You’ve got to stay consistent with these tools until they become habits. When you listen without attachment, it’ll take time to really see what the Critic is so afraid of, and how to start relating to that aspect of yourself, differently. With time and practice, however, you’ll see a dramatic shift in how much power the Critic has over your behavior.