Is your inner critic ever right?

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What role does your inner critic play in your vision? For some, their inner critic keeps them second-guessing everything and prevents them from getting started. For others, their inner critic has a constant, nagging voice that pushes them to rewrite and rework over and over in an attempt to get closer and closer to perfection. The responses in both of these cases show that the inner critic's message is taken as truth.

In coaching, we sometimes refer to our inner critic as a "gremlin." The root of all gremlin messages is a fear that we're not good enough. The gremlin uses this fear to its advantage to keep us safe and protected. It doesn't want you to fail or experience any kind of criticism. 

Sometimes* your inner critic will use a piece of reality to get your attention. This grain of truth is used against you to give more weight to the "you're not good enough" message and make you stop what you're doing so you can stay safe. These gremlin messages are particularly sneaky because we’re quick to take the whole thing as TRUTH, with a capital T, without a second thought. As you begin to increase your awareness of your gremlin messages, you can get more analytical about which parts of these cruel messages can be used to your advantage.

An INFJ's inner critic

As INFJs, we use our introverted mental functions when we're alone. This means we use our dominant function of Introverted Intuition (Ni) and our tertiary function of Introverted Thinking (Ti). When our Ti is working, it's looking at logical and analytical data to make decisions. Your inner critic may use some of this data against you as fuel for its "your not good enough" message. Let me explain what I mean.

In this sampling of my inner critic dialogue on some days when writing for The INFJ Life, there's a kernel of truth:

  • You've already written about this topic multiple times. Been there, done that. Why can't you be more creative?

  • You’re not using metaphors. INFJs use metaphors! What kind of INFJ are you?

  • You've used that same word 20 times. You're a terrible, unoriginal writer!

In the first half of these statements, you'll see some truths. I frequently write about the same (or similar) topics. I don't write completely in metaphor. I often repeat myself by using the same word (thanks to my editor, Jamie, for helping with that!) 

My inner critic likes to take these pieces of data, jab its finger toward my face and shout, "See! I told you. You can't do this. You're not good enough (creative enough, INFJ enough, original enough)!”

Is your inner critic ever right?

Though your inner critic will use nuggets of truth to inflate your fears and shame you, it ultimately wants to keep you safe (and will accrue lots of evidence to prove that you would be a whole lot "safer" if you just stopped whatever you're doing!) While your inner critic can do a lot of damage and tear you down, there are ways it can also help.

Assign your inner critic a new role

When you're working on a project or piece of your vision, set the inner critic's commentary aside while you're in the creation stage. When you've met a milestone (like when I've finished an article), take time to process the messages more thoroughly. Look at them critically. Imagine that your work is someone else's. Are there any facts hidden in your gremlin messages? Is any of this data helpful? If you find factual data, would it be helpful to make improvements? 

Give your inner critic a new job. Instead of allowing it to interrupt you, prevent you from starting, or keep you working on the same thing over and over, use it to help you think about your work from a new perspective. Relegate your gremlin to the margins where it can express itself in red ink.

Use your Extraverted Feeling

This is also a time you might consider using your extraverted decision-making function of Extraverted Feeling (Fe). Sharing your work with a trusted friend or advisor can help you decide which (if any) of the red comments in the margin have merit. This is why I hired my INFJ editor, Jamie Downer.  When Jamie edits my work, she frequently calls attention to areas in which I already had hesitation. She also brings a fresh perspective to the entire piece. This outside perspective helps me get out of my inner world for external feedback.

Take Action:

When working on a project over the next few days, increase your awareness of your inner critic's messages and the specific instances that bring them forward. Record your thoughts and fears that come up on your phone, a new document, or in a journal. Capturing these messages can allow you to think more critically about what you hear. Tell yourself that you'll go back and give these messages your full attention after you reach your chosen stopping point.

Once you reach a milestone, look back at your gremlin messages. Are there any facts? If so, would you like to make edits based on this information? Where (or with whom) could you share your work to get a helpful perspective?

* Many times our inner critic messages have no basis in truth. Awareness of what your inner critic says is key to begin differentiating between the messages that are completely false and those that you can use to your benefit.