Inner Critic vs Inner Coach

19 June, 2017

Are you tearing yourself apart with your internal dialogue, or supporting yourself to navigate the ups and downs of life?  Time to swap your Inner Critic for Inner Coach.

Just to be clear how important I find this topic: VERY BLOODY IMPORTANT.  Transforming those troublesome voices (to quote Steve Andreas - NLP trainer) is a game changer.  It can be the difference between depression and happiness.  The difference between self-esteem and self-loathing.  The difference between enjoying your life and merely just enduring it.  It's OK if you don't yet believe that changing such a seemingly small thing can result in major life changes: you will.

I've been in the coaching business for 11 years now, and it would be rare for a client to escape my offices without having done some work on their internal dialogue.  They wouldn't be my client if they didn't need some work on this, it's just the way it is.  So, getting on top of your own inner voices, and making that transformation from Critic to Coach, is essential.  And the best news is, that once you've learned to do it, it's FREE!

Just to be clear again, then, what it is I'm talking about when I say Inner Critic.  Put it this way, if you're a human being with a cerebral cortex, you have developed the ability to talk to yourself, in your primary language, in words, inside your own head.  You weren't born with this ability.  You were born only with your 5 senses, the ability to process the world in pictures; sounds; touch; taste and smell.  Later, when you became a toddler, you started learning how to speak a language.  You might start with 'mama' and 'dada' and then slowly things like 'duck' and 'fly' until soon enough, you're talking in full-blown sentences like 'I don't like it!' and 'mummy, stop doing that!' (usually very loudly in the supermarket).  As you keep growing and developing, at some stage during your childhood, those sounds that you make out of your mouth to communicate to others will begin to be made inside your own head, where only you can hear it, to communicate privately to your very own self.

And, this develops into your Inner Critic.  You know that little voice that beats you up, and and says really unhelpful things to you like: Who do you think you are to apply for that job?  You’re a crap parent.  You suck at your job.  It’s your fault your partner left you.  I can’t believe you buggered that up again you idiot.  You haven’t done anything to lose weight today, you’re going to be fat forever.  Don’t be silly, why would they like you

In short, there are two main categories of tapes being played inside your head:  who do you think you are? and: you're not good enough.

Now then, why does it become a Critic rather than a Coach from the outset?  Why is it that we are we not coaching folk to be less pollyanna-positive, and more of a realist or a critic in their lives?  Why does it evolve on the negative side?  Well, I have to say that the jury is still out on this one. Some think it is the way our brains have evolved to be negatively biased, because of our inbuilt fight-flight mechanism.  Some think it is because we all harbour deep, inner shame (Brene Brown).  And some think it is because we model language from our primary care givers, and that these parents or teachers or big brothers weren't always kind, so we learn to talk to ourselves in the shitty way we got talked to (Steve Andreas).  I personally have come to the conclusion that it's a combination of all of these things, and probably some other things that neuroscience has yet to come up with. 

One thing I do know for sure though, as a coach and as a mother, is that little babies don't know how to do this.  They learn to do it throughout their childhood.  And there's only one way that babies learn, and that's through modelling (parroting, mirroring, copying). 

So, which ever way you look at the thing to know about the Inner Critic that you have now as a teenager or an adult, and deeply know, is that it's NOT EVEN YOURS.  You inherited it.  Most likely by accident.  But inherited all the same.  It could be the way your father talked to you personally, because he was mean, or simply the way he talked out loud about himself.  And he also inherited it.  And so on. 

So, let's think about changing it, shall we?

Now, here's the thing.  When thinking about changing our inner voices, people are scared.  They are scared because they have been tricked into believing that the Inner Critic is actually going to help them succeed and be happy.   They think if they change it they are going to be 'letting themselves off the hook' and getting away without achieving, without aiming higher, without improving.  They think if they change it, they have to change it to Pollyanna-positive dialogue, where they go around looking in the mirror and giving themselves high-fives all day, and going "Yeah!  You're so freakin' AWESOME, man!!". 

This is all part of crappy thinking, and none of it's true.

The Inner Critic doesn't make you aim higher, or make you better at things, or keep you striving, or stops you from being a narcissistic arrogant freak.  It simply just makes you feel bad. End of story. Really, that's the sum of it. If you don't believe me, next time you feel bad, notice what you were saying to yourself just beforehand. 

Let's think about this logically.  If you were going to enter a sports competition, let's say join a rugby team and play competitive rugby.  With your team you now have a rugby coach.  Let's say that you screw up one time and miss a try during an important game, because you misjudged something.  Now, if your coach proceeded to tell you what a loser you were, how you should never have been so arrogant to even attempt a try in the first place: who do you think you are?  And that you'll never be good enough to get better at this game - what would you do?  I don't think any of us would stick around too long, let alone actually improve our game.  We usually have a bit more self-esteem and commonsense to take that from someone else.

What you'd expect is for that coach to say:  Charlotte, that wasn't your best move, it's true, you didn't do what I know you you're capable of. But we need to let this go now.  And you know, with a bit more practice in these areas, I can see you get better at this.  We can fix it.  Let's think of a plan..."

You'd also probably need to respect the person, trust their judgement, know they were telling you the truth, and that they had your back.  In short, they'd be someone it was worth listening to.

THIS is the kind of relating to ourselves and communicating to ourselves that we need, people!  And we need it now, today.  For ourselves, and our children.  Because, no matter what, you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life, so you have to make it a relationship worth having.  Because if you can't treat yourself with respect, how can you expect anyone else to?  And how do you really want your kids to grow up? 

We also categorically DO NOT want Pollyanna-positive, walking around the house giving yourselves high-fives all day kind of dialogue either.  Michael Yapkow, a very well known therapist for treating bad cases of depression very successfully in one session, says that this is the most important thing to learn about managing our internal dialogue.  The difference between people that are happy and people that are depressed, is not that they happy people are going around being an arsehole yet deliriously loving themselves all day.  No.  The happy people still have their Inner Critics, they've just learned not to pay much attention to them.  Like your old, shit-stirring drunk uncle on your wedding day.  Give him a wide birth, and don't trust much of what he says, help him get his drunken ass into bed at night and put out the light.

AND - I would take it a step further than Yapkow.  We need to install, and become familiar with, a reasonable, truth-telling, logical and more positive dialogue.  The kind of language you would expect from your coach, and your best friend, your cool and reliable aunty.  If you stuffed up, you wouldn't want your bestie to tell you you were the most amazing person since sliced bread, would you?!  You'd want them to say:  Charlotte, that wasn't your best moment - AND - this is solvable, we can make this better.  You want to have a reasonable voice in there, and a logical one, and also a kind one.  You want to help yourself manage life, make good decisions, and recover from adversity, be resilient.  You want to have your own back.

The thing to remember:  you can't talk to yourself like shit AND feel good.  It's an equation your brain simply can't do.  Won't do.

This is the reason to find is your Inner Coach.  Find that voice in there, and listen to it.  Tune in. Like your favourite radio station.  Just as we have the old one, we can find this one too, and start paying attention.  A good way to start is to ask yourself:  What would my friend say to me in a moment like this?

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.
With love, Charlotte.

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