My friend has a sign near her desk that says, “Shut the hell up Estelle.” Estelle is the fictitious name she’s given her inner critic. We all have one. You know. That annoying voice that shows up just when you’re feeling on top of the world. The one that stops you in your tracks to ask, “Who do you think you are?” Or that voice that tells you “you’re not ____ enough.” Fill in the blank, “not smart enough.. not good enough…not thin enough” and on and on it goes.
The inner critic can manifest from many past experiences. For example, my friend’s Estelle represents many different sources for that annoying voice. But sometimes the loudest voice, the one that continuously shows up, can be from the same source. I have a little cloth doll I call, Dodi. She’s named after my mother. I keep her in my desk drawer most of the time. But she doesn’t always stay there. In true Dodi fashion, she tends to insert herself at the worst times. When I hear her voice in my head, I take out my Dodi Doll, and I simply thank her for her input (in her mind it’s always well intended), then promptly lock her in the drawer and tell her “Sorry Mom, you’re not invited today.”
It’s thought that our inner critic is meant to keep us safe, to help us avoid those vulnerable moments. The child who is discouraged from playing with the big kids because he might get hurt, may always hear that voice telling him “you’re too small.” The young artist whose art teacher is less than complimentary about her work may never pursue her dreams. She listens to the inner critic voice that says “yeah, you’re good, but not good enough.”
Fortunately, we don’t have to be at the mercy of our inner critic. The mistake we make is in trying to silence it completely. We can’t. But, what we can do is shut it down in those moments when it matters most. One of the best ways to do this is to find a physical representation of that voice, like my friend’s sign message to Estelle, or my cloth doll. Something you can see or hold in your hand. Something that you associate with that critical voice. Then don’t be afraid to talk to it. But remember you are in control of this conversation. You simply tell it to “shut the hell up” or you lock it in a drawer. And then you do the thing that you know you were meant to do. We all have an inner critic. And while we may not be able to shut it down completely, we can at least shut it the hell up for the moment.