What is the Inner Critic? And What to Do When You’re Under Attack!

Woman pointing finger and wondering What is the Inner Critic? on pink background

In this third article we answer the question: What is the inner critic? And we also take a first look at what to do when we’re experiencing an inner critic ‘attack’.

You may also like the first two inner critic articles where I shared how my inner critic impacted me, as well as how the inner critic is formed, how it impacts not just how we feel but stops us from becoming all of who we are. And I also introduced the idea that we need to be kind to our critic, not ignoring or blaming it, and why.

In this article:

  1. What is the Inner Critic?
  2. What Should I Do About My Critic?
  3. Why we need a Variety of Techniques and Strategies
  4. The 7 Step Inner Critic Attack (ICAN) Process
  5. Summary & Recap
  6. Questions to Ponder
  7. Wrap-up

So, what is the Inner Critic?

Your inner critic is an inner guardian your brain developed to keep you safe, alive and in the loving bubble of your parents, tribe or community. Its role is to continuously check and warn you of potential dangers. These dangers include avoiding doing things that upset other people and keeping you from making costly mistakes.

Your inner critic means well, but it uses fear, anger and sometimes shame as tools to make you do what it wants—to stay safe.

Our critic disrupts our inner peace by second-guessing important decisions, making us feel terrible when we make mistakes and gets in the way of us being all of who we are! So your inner critic, depending on how strong and how frightened it is, can play a pretty important role in your life—and how you feel day-to-day.

The question I am most often asked is: What should I do about my critic?

I would love to tell you to follow my 5 steps and your critic will be gone forever. And while I do have a 7 step process, the answer is not that straightforward. Because like most things, our critic is contextual. How to handle an inner critic ‘attack’ (which is when we become aware of it) depends on:

  • What your critic believes about the situation—and how afraid it is.
  • What your critic wants you to do/not do—and how you feel about that.
  • What else is going on in your life/at that moment eg. how scared/triggered you are and how resourceful you’re feeling.
  • Your environment and who else is around you.
  • How much time you have—and more…

For example: we would use a different strategy for dealing with your critic if you’re about to deliver an important presentation in 5 minutes, than if you’re having the same meltdown but the presentation is 5 days away. Similarly, a different approach is needed if your critic is panicking about a big financial decision than if you’re deciding what to do on the weekend.

We need a variety of techniques and strategies

While obviously it’s best to use a strategy that will permanently heal the critic and its fears, this takes time: healing can be a long process.

Yet sometimes we’re in a situation where we simply don’t have the luxury of time—we just need to get through the moment/activity/event: like when you’re driving, about to perform or out for dinner with brand new colleagues. And sometimes we’re just plain tired and don’t have the energy to fully process our critic.

So, some quick-fix techniques are definitely helpful to get you through those difficult moments. And we will cover those soon.

But as far as strategies go we need BOTH. ALL. We need immediate, short term strategies as well as a longer, deeper process for healing. And we need to learn how to apply whatever is best for us in each situation.

What to do when you’re under ‘attack’

So as mentioned, there is a process we can follow when our critic attacks! Below is a quick overview of the 7 Step Inner Critic Attack iNfluence (ICAN) Process.

The 7 Step Inner Critic Attack iNfluence (ICAN) Process

When we have an inner critic ‘attack’ we:

  1. First recognize we are NOT our inner critic—and disengage from it.
  2. Decide what strategy to take—do we have time to do the full process or do we need a quick fix?
    • If it’s a quick fix, do that here, now. And return to complete Step 3 onwards later.
    • If you have at least 5-10 minutes then you can move onto Step 3.
  3. Take care of our selves—so we action this process from a place of strength!

    • This step is about calming down, and returning to your ‘self’.
    • If you have at least 5-10 minutes then move onto Step 4, otherwise return to Step 4 later.
  4. Connect to your Fierce Kind Self. We need to be firm, kind and respectful to our inner critic. This is for 3 reasons:
    1. Our critic is still a part of us—it’s simply ‘young’, misguided and scared.
    2. Our critic might have something useful to add.
    3. When we ignore our critic, it often ramps up the fear and discomfort until we pay attention. We want to avoid this.
  5. Lean in. Create a dialogue with your critic where you 1) listen to and 2) soothe our critic.
    • The goal is for your critic to feel heard, safe and relax—we want it to believe you’ve got this and that it’s no longer needed!
    • Thank your critic for sharing.
  6. Decide what to do next. Be sure to factor in any relevant information from your critic.
  7. Lastly, afterwards, review and reflect on what happened. This reinforces our position as the person in charge of our life—and teaches the critic to loosen its grip.

What next?

I expect you have questions about this process! This is just an introduction to these steps, so keep your eyes peeled for more articles. I’m going to share more about each step—as well as some quick fixes for how to handle our inner critic in the moment.

Here’s a quick recap

What is the inner critic?

  • Your critic is not who you truly are, yet it is still a part of you ie. it’s still there—even if you’d like to pretend it’s not.
  • The critic is really just an abandoned part of ourselves, scared and alone.
  • It has a different belief system and set of rules, created to protect you when you were a child.
  • You are now grown up, but your critic is not… And it’s way out of its depth trying to keep you safe.
  • This understanding drives how we need to handle our critic: with Compassion, Courage and Fierce Kindness.

When our inner critic attacks:

  • An inner critic ‘attack’ is when our critic goes into overdrive, worrying about something—and over-reacts.
    • During an inner critic ‘attack’, it uses the tools of fear, anger, shame and blame to get you to do (or not do) something and stay safe.
  • While you can yell at it or shut it off, when you do that you are:
    1. Hurting a part of yourself
    2. Losing potentially helpful information and
    3. Simply pushing your fears underground until they pop up again—perhaps more strongly
  • The 7 Step ICAN process helps us separate from the critic’s panic and fears so we’re not consumed by them. Over time this process helps our critic heal.
  Some homework questions to ponder:
  • What challenges do you have with your critic? When does it typically show up?
  • What do you usually do when your inner critic ‘attacks’?
  • How do you typically treat your inner critic?
  • Which step do you think you might have the most difficulty with—and why?
  • And lastly, what does your critic think about this article?!
    • Is it scared/hopeful/excited/relieved/skeptical/apprehensive?

Wrap-upFierce Kindness Logo

Arguably the most important of the 4Cs of Fierce Kindness is Connection. Because a true and authentic self-connection is essential if we want to be happy, live a life of meaning, and find relationships and community where we can be ourselves and belong.

Our inner critic is a part of ourselves we’ve abandoned. It’s scared and alone, and its terrible behaviours impact how we feel, life decisions, relationships and how we express ourselves in the world!

That’s why dealing with our inner critic is a core part of Fierce Kindness. And when we embrace and learn to treat our critic with love and Fierce Kindness, we are on the journey to becoming whole and at peace. And as we heal from our critic’s limiting beliefs and stretch outside our comfort zone we create a life we love too.

Inner critic work is exhilarating, terrifying and it’ll be the hardest thing you’ve ever done—and it will transform your life!

If you liked this article on what is the inner critic and how to handle an ‘inner critic’ attack, you may also like:

Change the world. Start with you!

Image of Happy person on pink background pointing finger asking “What is the Inner Critic?” by krakenimages via Kraken Images

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.