Years ago, when I did my coaching training, our group of aspiring coaches would repeatedly discuss the relevance of the Inner Critic to us and most of our future clients. My response was pretty much, pfft. Plus some eye-rolling. Unobtrusive, but dismissive nevertheless and full-on judgmental in nature. So it’s a bit of an irony that I should be teaching Inner Critic workshops these days. But I’ve always found that the Universe has a pretty wicked sense of humor.
Why was I so dismissive? Did I not have an Inner Critic? Oh, I did—just like everybody else, and when I say everybody, I literally mean every single person. Mine was a sneaky bastard: It made me believe that it was super-helpful and a great motivator and, given that, there was no reason to object to its efforts. Ever.
The voice in my head usually asks me to do better and work harder, and not in a nice way. What’s your lazy butt doing on the couch? Do you think your work is doing itself? is pretty typical for my Inner Critic’s conversation style. But there’s nothing wrong with that, is it? Shouldn’t someone remind me that I could be perfect if I just put in a little more effort, say 120 percent or so? Never mind that it’s Sunday afternoon.
There are as many Inner Critics as there are people, but certain types are common. Mine, as you may be able to guess at this point, is predominantly a mix of Perfectionist and Foreman or, as I tend to think of it, a mix of Martha Stewart (sorry, Martha!) and a prison guard: Ms. Martha Martinet.
Do you see where I got tricked? I spent years and years—decades really, who am I kidding—working my butt off, burning the midnight oil, going above and beyond in everything I did. All in hopes of reaching the promised land of Perfectistan where I would lean back and breathe freely because there would finally be no reason to work harder or do better.
Guess how that worked for me! Perfect, it turns out, is not only unachievable—but undesirable as well. Because perfection does not allow for personal growth. But go ahead and share this intel with an active perfectionist. I can tell you from experience, the voice of reason won’t be heard. So my body and mind, fed up with my stubborn insistence to cooperate with Ms. Martha Martinet, pulled the emergency break and pushed me into a major depression.
You can take it on trust or you can find out the hard way. I was in for the hard way. But this very dark cloud truly came with a silver lining. Depression may not have felt like a gift while I was going through it, but it helped me experience and accept the truth about the Inner Critic: That b**** is not helpful at all, no matter how convincing its voice may sound.
During this time, Ms. Martha Martinet turned into the worst drag in my everyday life, criticizing everything I did or did not do in the meanest way possible. Eventually, I got myself help in the form of a therapist. But I had a strong feeling—don’t ask me why— that I had to do more than that. And while I was depressed and low on energy, I was still a coach. So I decided that I had to do my best to coach myself out of the funk.
And guess what turned out to be the best starting point to initiate serious change? Yep, my frenemy Martha. I set out to face my Inner Critic, understand that this voice comes from a place of fear within me, and accept that it’s neither rational nor right. From there, I went back to the tools and strategies I had learned—and ignored—all these years back.
Today, I still have an Inner Critic. Ms. Martha Martinet continues to tell me I need to work harder and do better, and that’s okay. Because today I can see the voice for what it is: one voice of many that I have, but that’s not me—not even half of me. A voice that might at times be a valuable warning system, but that I will no longer allow to push me toward citizenship in Perfectistan. I hear the application lines are still long, but I’m telling you it’s not worth it. You can take it on trust or find out the hard way. I hope you’ll have it in you to trust me on this one.
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Micha Goebig is a life coach and author. With Go Big Coaching, the focus of her work is on empowering women to master the personal aspects of transitions and form habits that have the potential to take our quality of life to the next level. She teaches her workshop on the Inner Critic, “I AM ENOUGH”, frequently at different locations throughout the Seattle area. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, Micha received her master’s degree from the University of Munich and trained as a coach with one of Germany’s leading executive coaches, Monika Scheddin. She is currently based in Seattle, WA.