August 23, 2023
4 minute read

Befriending your Inner Critic

Mara Javier
Photos by
Illustrations by

My inner critic has existed as long as I can remember. Taking different shapes and forms over the years, this inner voice has always whispered sweet nothings, luring me into a trap of perfectionism or paralysis. It happens in the most vulnerable moments, especially in times of deep creativity.

I believe every individual goes through the same experience. As you fall into a creative rut or down a rabbit hole of doubtful thoughts, guess who shows up? That persistent inner critic. The things they say are probably no different from someone else’s inner workings of the mind:

“You call that good? Other people are so much better than you.”

“How can you even call yourself an artist? You haven’t even made anything of yourself.”

“Why should people listen to you? You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Everyone has had these harsh thoughts at one point or another, but how your inner critic shows up in your life is unique to you. Who is your inner critic? And how do its sharp words affect you?

How it usually manifests for most people can be summed up in three different ways:

1. Analysis Paralysis.

Self criticism and judgment can lead to overthinking and overanalyzing. It’s that extra stroke of paint on your canvas and not knowing when to stop. It can even get to a point where it cripples your decision making, causing you to freeze and lose momentum.

2. Imposter syndrome.

You fear that you’ll be found out as a fraud because there’s a lack of self belief in your own ability. This can materialize as being in a leadership position and not feeling worthy to lead or even going to a networking event and feeling like you don’t belong.

3. Self sabotage.

You allow the negative criticism on yourself to dictate how you live. Imagine not putting yourself out there or not trying even because of the possibility that what your inner critic says—that you might not be good enough or you might fail—might come true.

Our thoughts can manifest in such impactful behaviors. This is what happens when our gut reaction to self criticism is to let it wash over us and engulf our minds. But what I’ve learned over time is that your inner critic is actually trying to protect you from the scary world we live in. It’s trying to protect you from your own fears. Fear of failure, not reaching your own expectations, or not being who you strive to be. And yet, on the other side of this fear is your own potential and greatness. These can’t exist without the other. It’s okay that these negative thoughts come up because they validate the possibility of your greatness.

Inner critic, my old friend

I’ve learned that it’s not about shutting down your inner critic, but befriending them. Another reaction is to push these thoughts down, but sweeping them under the rug can actually make them grow bigger. Giving your inner critic their own space to exist without judgment opens one up for self compassion and kindness.

So give your critic a name.

Take note of when they show up in your thought process. Give them the time of day and thank them for their input, but also challenge what they have to say. They don’t have to overpower your mind, but can gradually be converted to motivate and encourage you. When you provide your inner critic with opportunities to transform into your biggest supporter, you can learn to navigate moments of self doubt and steer yourself in the direction you want to go.

Create something each day.

Do something tactile, whether it’s a drawing or a journal entry. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. The more you practice, the more your body will believe that you’re capable.

Put yourself in social situations that may be outside your comfort zone.

Imagine the best that could happen –– you can get a huge opportunity or connect with someone great. The worst that could happen? You flubbed a conversation, big deal.

Shift your inner critic’s perspective.

Once you hear that negative talk, add a rebuttal.

“This isn’t my best work… But I’m learning with each piece.”

Keep befriending your inner critic.

Keep collecting evidence to show yourself these thoughts aren’t actually that scary once it’s all said and done. For me, it took me ages to write this article. My inner critic, who I call Gollum, kept saying “what if it’s terrible?” before I could even write a single word. Yet here I am, alive and unscathed, feeling like it wasn’t so scary after all. Hopefully the next time you make art and publish it, your inner critic may murmur, “Nobody will like it.” Perhaps, then, you can bravely respond, “So what? I like it.”