Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Inner Critic: Professional Bully

Our inner critic is the voice in our head that we often mistake for our own voice. Her voice is recognizable because she has only one message: you’re not good enough.

Our inner critic is the voice telling us we are faulty, bad, and just plain embarrassing. She points out our unacceptable bits, so we know which parts of ourselves to hide. She’s convinced us that she’s being helpful; without her guidance, we are at risk of going out in the world as ourselves and getting rejected all over the place.

Unfortunately, we’re easy targets. We already believe that our worth is up for debate. We already believe that we are inferior. We already feel ashamed of who we are and who we aren’t.

Our inner critic needs us to be primed to feel shame. Then she can scare the bejeezus out of us with just a few scornful words about how you can not pull off that outfit. And you need to lose weight before you can even consider dating.

If we didn’t believe that we could be “bad” or “worth less,” then we wouldn’t take the inner critic seriously. What she has to say would have no meaning for us. She would have no leverage, and we would just live as if we had a right to.

Unfortunately, most of us have received countless messages – explicit or otherwise – from family, friends, or society in general telling us that we are not thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, popular enough, productive enough, accomplished enough, or rich enough. We are very ready to feel worth less.

In an ideal world, we would know that those messages were wrong, that we are and have always been enough.

In an ideal world, we would see right through our inner critic and realize that she is getting paid to make us feel bad about ourselves. She’s not thoughtfully assessing and critiquing us, like a regular critic. She doesn’t give credit where credit is due; she doesn’t point out our awesome bits. She says only mean things because that’s what she gets paid to do. That’s her entire job.

She’s a professional bully.

Think about it. Has your inner critic ever said, “Hey, good work! Now you can feel good about this part of yourself!” or “This part of you is bad but this other part of you is really great! Stop hiding it!”? Has she ever said anything that wasn’t mean?

It is crucial to understand where her loyalties lie. Once we know that her words are based on her paycheck, not on us, we can safely ignore her. She’s not trying to help us; she’s trying to fuel our shame. We’d be much better off without her!

Don’t expect your inner critic to stop talking just because you’ve realized she’s a fraud. She’s going to keep talking, because that’s how she gets paid. That’s her job. Your job is to remember that she’s not helpful or relevant, and ignore her. Be prepared though: once you start ignoring her, she’s going to get extra loud because she can’t afford to lose her job, but that doesn’t mean she’s right. Keep ignoring her.

Instead of focusing on what she’s saying, focus on what you want out of life. Focus on what feels satisfying. Focus on doing things that feel good. Live according to your values instead of her criticisms. This is how life gets juicy.

The inner critic robs us of self-esteem, self-acceptance, and a juicy life. When we listen to her, we are so focused on hiding ourselves that we don’t see (or are too scared to take) opportunities to engage more deeply with our lives. We are so focused on not being hurt that we don’t focus on getting what we want. The inner critic scares us into an unfulfilling life where we always believe we have to be better first.

But she’s full of shit. That’s really the bottom line. There is nothing you should hide. Every bit of you is acceptable.

Listen to yourself, not the person who is motivated to make you feel bad about yourself. If you have trouble hearing yourself, keep listening. Tune in to what you have to say, and turn down the volume on everyone else.

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