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Silencing Your Inner Critic

By Galia Barhava-Monteith

This article was first published on Westpac’s Rednews blog and appeared on our website with Westpac’s permission.

A promising young professional woman I coached some years ago comes to mind when I think of debilitating self criticism. No matter how well she was doing, she felt like she wasn’t good enough. In our sessions, I would gently remind her that I was her biggest supporter and that I don’t judge. And yet it was hard for her to drop the need to prove time and again that she was good enough to be employed in the elite professional services firm she worked for.

After working with hundreds of women and men as a coach and facilitator over the years, I often ask myself: why is it that so many outwardly successful people are so self-critical inwardly? I’ve come to realise that there are many different explanations. For some it is their own definition of success, one they never stopped to reflect on. For others, it is about the environment they were raised in, where coming second was never good enough. Understanding the source of our self-criticism is an important step towards self awareness and a key ingredient for any sustainable change in our lives.

Being Perfect Isn’t the Goal

I often have to remind my clients that they are, in fact, human. That they are allowed to make mistakes and that sometimes they will do or say the wrong thing – and that’s OK as long as they own up to it, apologise and move on. That life isn’t about getting everything right or perfect the first time. Sometimes we need to practice before we ‘get there’. Because when we are very critical of ourselves we are also extremely critical of other people which can be very destructive.

By learning to show ourselves compassion, we become more compassionate towards others and build stronger and healthier relationships with significant others in our lives, both personally and professionally.

Self Compassion

How do you go about becoming more self-compassionate? Start by paying attention to the times you put yourself down in a conversation. Catch yourself and try and rephrase, at least in your own head. One of my clients, another promising young woman who since has become a senior leader in a global organisation, found that really listening to positive feedback – rather than just shrugging it off and focusing on the negative, was the most powerful way for her to silence her inner critic. She came to see all feedback, the good and the ‘corrective’, as gifts people were giving her. By seeing feedback this way, she became more forgiving of herself and of others and also a brilliant giver of feedback!

To Err is Human; To Forgive, Divine

It is never too late to become more self-compassionate. For some of my older, more established clients, the notion of thinking about three good things that happened in a day, and the ways that they contributed to them, is an authentic way to see how much good they do and how they contribute to those around them. Thus, when they slipped up, rather than endlessly punishing themselves, they were able to re-frame and see that they actually do a lot of positive and constructive things. This helps them to forgive themselves and accept that as humans they are, in fact, allowed to err.

Reframing Ultimately, the key to silencing our inner critic is through re-framing for ourselves that all  we do in life should be about getting better in whatever it is that we do – being parents, partners, or professionals. Once we change our frame of thinking from expecting to always get it ‘right’ the first time and generally being ‘perfect’, to accepting that we will always make mistakes and that that is a GOOD THING from which we can learn to improve, we will learn to forgive ourselves and be a hell-of-a-lot kinder to significant others in our lives.

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