“You’ll never be able to do that. Don’t kid yourself.”
“You won’t get that role because you’re not good enough. You messed up too many times in the past year.”
“Ha! Some people set goals and make things happen. Not you, babe. You’re a slacker.”
We all have that evil voice that undermines, erodes confidence, and convinces us we should step back and be happy with what we have. We should be GRATEFUL. We’re lucky we were ever considered. But, get real. You’re not smart enough. Everyone knows that.
What is up with the voice?
Well, believe it or not, it’s a voice designed to keep us safe.
Imagine being a small, helpless child. You depend on your caregivers for absolutely everything. They keep you safe, they feed you, they give you shelter. And sometimes they are happy, and sometimes they’re not. Even as a baby, you’re quick to figure out you need to stay in their good graces to survive….literally. We pick up signals, we evaluate what behaviors, emotions and expressions bring us security. Keep us in the tribe. Fit into the pack.
How can we stay lovable?
So this little voice starts to develop. It’s hyper vigilant and it does not mind shutting you down ASAP if you start to get out of line. As a young child, you’re figuring out how the world works.
Maybe you discover that in your world, high-achievement brings safety and approval.
Maybe you find out that being quiet and good is the way to go.
Maybe you find out that standing up for yourself isn’t as effective as blending in.
But like any benevolent dictator, this voice starts to get a little drunk with power. And it gets very slippery. It integrates it’s helpful but soul-crushing “tips” into all your thoughts. Over time you develop adult capacities, adult reasoning. You can support yourself. You have a credit card and a checking account. You can make yourself a sandwich. You can spot a phishing email. You have skills.
But the dictator isn’t so quick to give up the throne. Nope. And by now, that judgmental voice is seamlessly integrated into your thinking. It’s tough to distinguish as a separate “thing”. It’s just “you”.
You may even accommodate The Judging Voice by saying “I have high standards” or “I expect a lot of myself”. Or, “I’m always striving to be better.” or “I’m a perfectionist. I like to get every detail right.”
But instead of bringing the fulfillment of meeting standards or going beyond what’s expected, the voice brings misery. It limits you. It erodes your confidence or joy. Maybe it drives an addictive behavior of overwork (“Gotta get it perfect!”) or substance abuse (“Gotta get away from this fucking voice!”)
So, how do we distance ourselves from our Saboteur?
1 / Start to listen to your thoughts - especially negative dialog that is repetitive.
2 / Question specific thoughts:
- Is this true? Am I sure?
- Is this thought mine? Or do I recognize this as someone else’s voice?
- How do I feel when I hear this? Empowered? Inspired?
- Is this voice in my best interest now?
3 / Connect with the present time, connect with your body. (This short-circuits the mind-fucking rumination. :) )
- Take a breath
- Feel your feet on the floor
- Feel your booty in the chair
- Look around you, behind you, establish that you are safe in this moment.
4 / Identify it. Just like conservationists tagging a wild animal to be able to track it over time, I tag my inner judge. I give my sabotaging inner judge a personality and a name. That helps me recognize the voice faster. Mine is a teenage girl that has withering criticism and lots of eye-rolling. When she pops up in my mind, I look, give her a piece of gum and a phone and move on.
- What voice does your Inner Critic have?
- What does it look like?
- What name would you give it?
- Check out the recommended quiz below
Why is this important to me?
As a coach, I talk about this issue with so many clients. The inner judge is a universal issue that limits us. The slippery way of the judge can even cause what I call “meta shame”.
Ex: “I can’t believe I fell for this stupid inner critic crap again. I’m so stupid!”
THAT is slippery. So, give yourself an extra dose of kindness, patience and humor. You aren’t alone. You’re human.
To discover your specific flavor of sabotage, I recommend Shirzad Chamine’s work. He offers a free quiz that helps you identify your personal style of sabotage. Warning: taking the quiz results with some amount of cringing.