Almost everybody has an inner critic, that snide, sniggering, scoffing voice at the back of your head that says you aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, or deserving enough.
And let’s face it -with all the ways we have to compare ourselves to everyone around us nowadays, as well as intense marketing designed to reinforce beliefs that you’re lacking in some way unless you buy their product, is it any wonder that those internal insults become ever louder?
“I’ll never be able to live like him/her”
“My writing’s crap compared to this”
“I’m not smart enough to go for the job I want”
“I’ll never be disciplined enough to achieve that because I’m a loser”
“I’ll never be…”
“I’m (insert insult here)”
Even the most successful and confident people out there struggle with that quiet, doubtful voice most of the time. The difference is, they’ve learned how to control it, and even use it as motivation.
You’ve probably read and heard that a thousand times, and thought, ‘Well good for them for being born with that ability’.
But it’s not an inborn ability that people either have or they don’t. It’s all about training and rewiring your brain to think and react differently. That takes time and inner work. A lot of it.
Granted, some people might find it a little easier than others, depending on their past, their circumstances, the people they hang around with, and their mental health.
My inner critic, which I refer to as my inner gremlin, used to be like a raging tsumani. All- consuming, all-powerful, endlessly destructive. And hungry for more.
It never used to be like that. When I was a small child, I had boundless confidence and curiosity. I’d sit and write on my typewriter on the living room floor, or write a story in my notebook and race to show anyone who would read it.
Like most young children, I truly believed I could be anything I wanted; an archaeologist, a TV presenter, a weather reporter, a famous author.
Circumstances growing up, plus being bullied throughout my whole school life, fed the inner gremlin that had started to emerge once all the other children started forming cliques and showing off their own unique personalities.
I wasn’t like everyone else. I was inappropriate, loud, wore baggy, unfashionable clothes because everything else irritated me, and didn’t understand social jokes or cues. I wasn’t interested in the things others were interested in, or in talking about relationships.
It wasn’t until early adulthood I got diagnosed as being somewhere on the autistic spectrum.
Anyway, the older I got and the more insults were thrown at me, the more I believed them. The more I saw the other people around me, the more inadequate I felt. I didn’t need to be told I was ugly and worthless by other kids because my own inner bully had grown vicious and gigantic by that point.
I’d tell myself I was vile and worthless. All the while, my inner gremlin fed and grew.
Eventually, I stopped showing off my writing outside of school. I went through periods of self-harming, and my self-esteem was as low as it could get.
As a young adult, I still had my dreams from childhood – my main one to be an author – but I had serious issues with my identity and with extremely defensive and angry behaviour in my relationships.
Where did all this come from? My inner gremlin which had been gorging itself quite happily over the years on all of my negative thoughts and beliefs.
Strangely enough, my first step into altering those terrible beliefs started when my mum came to my house one day with bags and bags of my old junk and clutter from childhood, which she had cleared from the attic.
I was a hoarder, you see. But at the time I didn’t realise because I kept everything crammed out of sight or neatly lined up.
Confronted with years of my own mess, I realised I had a serious issue with letting go of the past. In many ways, I was still living in it.
I may have been an adult with a child and renting a home, but inside I was still that angry child pining for acceptance.
That day, I let go of so much stuff, and when I did, I physically felt like this huge spiritual weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Years of attachments, sad memories, and old work finally where it belonged – in the trash.
Something got sparked in me that day that triggered years of self growth, and opened the gate to minimalism.
Because I was forced to question why I had been holding onto all that stuff, I started to ask myself deeper things, like where my beliefs came from, and why I felt the way I did.
I started reading every self-help book I could get my hands on that appealed to the specific issues I had identified. Books about overcoming trauma, writing, confidence, self-improvement, and later on, minimalism.
I didn’t just read these books once. I read them over and over, completing all the exercises inside them until I knew them off by heart and looking inside myself until it started to feel natural.
It’s safe to say that those books, alongside the action I took, went a significant way in helping me to change who I had become, and started me on a path of acceptance and becoming my true self.
For those of you who are interested, I will list some of those books at the end of this post, but keep in mind, your needs and what works for you might well be different, and that’s OK.
Fast forward to the present and I’ve made this blog, started training to become a counsellor, taken some Udemy courses, written part of a book, and made a new friend (who is also a writer). I’ve also become brave enough to enter a couple of writing competitions.
How did I silence my inner gremlin? I didn’t. Instead, I got strong enough to fight back and to co-exist with it in a healthy way. It’s nowhere near as big or as consuming as it was, and it certainly doesn’t stop me from writing or going for my dreams.
It’s highly unlikely you will completely silence your inner critic because for the most part, its job is to try to protect us from pain and humiliation. That’s why so many of us remain stuck in jobs we hate, lives that are going nowhere, and relationships that don’t serve us.
At its least destructive, it tells you to stay where you are, in comfortable waters, with everyone else. It halts and destroys dreams.
At its most destructive, it becomes like mine did. A seething mass of hate, doubt, and negativity.
The trick is to not feed it, and to gain power over it by fighting the inner demons that allow those beliefs to cement in your heart and mind.
Let me give an example of the occasional things my gremlin will rasp, and the things I now say back. Perhaps some of it will resonate with you.
You’re dreaming if you think you’ve got a chance.
Just look at this article – no readers. You’re rubbish, may as well give up now.
You lead a rubbish uneventful life, people don’t care what you have to say.
What qualifies you, of all people, to think you can help others?
Oh shut up, everyone started from zero.
But I’m doing something I love. Which is more than what you can do.
You’re just my inner critic, what do you know about writing and having fun? Nothing!
Inner Gremlin, you’d never get anywhere with an attitude like that. You suck. You’re mediocrity itself.
I can do what I want with my life, unlike you who can only criticise.
I am qualified to help people because I desire to, have been through things which could be valuable to others, and am training. You don’t know a thing about helping – just critisising.
I dare get my words out there regardless, and that’s awesome and more than most people will continue to do.
And you know what? Time after time of practising inner dialogue like that has turned the balance of power.
I’ve taken its energy source, cut off its supply, and shrank it down by doing the thing it hates the most – taking action.
Try it today. Argue back with your inner gremlin. Do it time and time again until it becomes nothing more than a minor annoyance.
Wage a war and confront your inner demons. Cut off its food supply.
Don’t let your inner gremlin decide your future.
Oh, and here are the books I said I would link, but before I do that I would also like to give a mention to Anthony Moore on Medium whose stories and articles help keep me going even through the tough times.