Even as a confident, competent and well- grounded person, I know I am not alone in sometimes battling self-critical thoughts – call it the inner critic, gremlin, saboteur or negative voice – I don’t think anyone completely escapes it, so I think we should just talk about it. It seems to me that when we don’t talk about the self-critical thoughts we face, we empower that little gremlin and give her cover. If we have shame about having an inner critic, we bolster its influence, if we talk about it we can help each other make peace with it. I have come to call her “her” (instead of “it”) because I realize that, like it or not, she is a part of me – she is not Me, but she is a part of me. (And your gremlin is a part of you too.)
Having taken the leap from a structured 30-year career where I thrived, grew, climbed the ladder and felt competent and confident to walking on a new path of independent work, my critic has been feeling a little feisty lately. I am finding independent work to be such a freedom, such a gift but it hasn’t come without challenges; as I evolve into this new way of being, I am aware of a critic that had been tamed in my “old” world but has found a new lease on life. It seems that whenever we face change, take on a new challenge in life, a new venture or a fresh experience, our gremlins act like kids on a sugar binge – they get a little crazy. Just like us, each gremlin has its own personality – its own “bag of tricks;” when my gremlin gets active I notice it uses comparison to shake my confidence. I know many other women who also face this internal whispering.
Each person has a unique inner dialog; the negative voice takes many forms. Some people have very aggressive gremlins who say things like “you aren’t worthy,” or “you’re unlovable,” or “you don’t deserve this.” My own gremlin is sneaky; she’s that passive aggressive “friend” who never directly tells me I can’t accomplish, but does like to point out what others are doing that is different (i.e. better, more professional, somehow above and beyond my work). I have gotten to know her and her tricks. My gremlin disguises comparison and hides it behind the pretense of “learning” and “research” when it tells me to look at what others are doing to, you know- “learn.” When I look at others I question myself and feel stuck. When I trust my own ideas and intuition and live my authentic self, I am clear, focused, happy and productive. I am becoming friends with my gremlin and when she asks me to look at what others are doing, I pat her on the head and then remind myself to be authentic instead of comparative. It is getting easier with practice. Do you know your gremlin’s tricks?
Of course, it seems so obvious once it’s written in black ink that it is unhelpful and unhealthy to compare ourselves to others yet how many of you have looked at another person and unconsciously compared yourself? Your body, your job, your salary, your accomplishments, your relationship, etc. I often don’t even realize I am making a comparison until I notice the pit I get in my stomach that tunes me in to hearing those unreasonable messages. This is why talking about our doubts and our negative self-talk is so powerful – as soon as we speak it out loud it loses some of its power. As soon as we are vulnerable enough to admit that we have a gremlin, we have the power to dispute her. This is why, even as I am practicing this myself, I ask coachees to tune in to their gremlins and start to notice what happens when she speaks. Yours is surely different than mine – she may be bigger or smaller, louder or subtler, she may be mean or sarcastic, but she is there as a constant companion. Get curious about her and when she speaks ask yourself these questions about her message: Is this kind? Is this helping me be the person I want to be? Does this inspire me or hold me back? How am I experiencing this in my body? By tuning in and befriending the critic we can loosen the grip of negative messages. As for me, I am choosing authenticity instead of comparison.