How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Inner Critic



The new year brings about many resolutions and motivations for new goals. While that may be a confidence booster, it can also bring severe anxiety and stress. It is often thought of that depression is more of a seducer while anxiety is a guerrilla ambush, attacking you when you least expect it in times where you feel nothing could go wrong. And in the vanguard, stands your inner critic, looking like something out of Mad Max Fury Road. In addition to being a looming presence that just wants to rain on your parade, it’s also an emotion that has a hidden on/off switch. It can take so much emotional effort to just refuse to go away even when you’ve exhausted your coping techniques.

The inner critic or “critical inner voice” is a concept referring to the sub-personality (kind of like the internal angel/devil conversations in media) that judges and demeans a person. It’s when you internally produce feelings of shame, low self-esteem, self-doubt, dependence, and low self-confidence that can trigger depression or anxiety episodes. Psychologists Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss identified seven common types of inner critics that manifest differently in various individuals; from the perfectionist, the taskmaster, the inner controller, the guilt tripper, the destroyer, the underminer, and the molder.

Many psychologists use either the response “treat it as a foe” or “treat it as an ally” in working with individuals depending on how it manifests. But the commonality between the two is acknowledging that the inner-critic is there rather than submerging it in our subconscious.

For me, anxiety is that very same inner-critic that lives in my head and makes me feel distrustful and paranoid of all those around me. It takes me through all the worst-case scenarios of my decisions and just loves to remind myself of those embarrassing or humiliating moments back from middle school. I have tools such as warrior rocks, a Nike training app, and plushies on my bed that try and alleviate this critic. I even have emergency mantras I whip out like I’m about to start an exorcism on myself.

It is often possible to manage anxiety by trying actively to replace the irrational, even trivial thoughts with more balanced and reasonable redirection but a new method for me comes from a thought I thought would be impossible to consider. And that’s just accepting what the inner critic is saying.

I’m not in the mental health field nor wish to diagnose those with any chronic form of anxiety. It’s my firm belief that effective coping for anxiety is individual-based so what may work for others may not work for you.

Validation of fears or anxieties is sometimes a thing we are trained to see as the thing we shouldn’t mid-panic attack but I make it into a game. A fun game where you detox those anxieties into statements more grounded in reality and believing that reality.

1. I try to create and repeat myself a sentence for the thought that is triggering me. I formulate into a general statement using I statements, capturing the emotion I am feeling and the cause and effect: “I am feeling nervous because I did not hear back from this person,” or, “Because I did not hear back from this person, I feel nervous.”

2. I try to notice any physical signs that the thought is getting me. I notice my breathing, my heart beats, if I’m shaking. Have water near me or decaffeinated tea (nothing stimulating)

3. I have a grounding object near me that I can hold on it. Grounding your emotions is key, no matter what the object is.

4. I then try to find out what is making me feel this way. Why am I feeling this way of someone not getting back to me? I try to make a mental list of these whys and repeat them to myself

5. I then counter those reasons with rational thoughts. They don’t want to talk to me is instead they must be busy with other things and that’s ok. Or, they are probably laughing at me is instead they must be processing what I’m saying and are just gathering the right words for a response.

6. I try repeating those counters three times. Closing my eyes, holding my grounding object and knowing that I am in a comfortable space with no distractions.

7. Acknowledge your thoughts and those redirections, then go do something you like doing or resume your routine.

The key is to not say to yourself that you are stupid for thinking of these thoughts or being irrational. Rather, it’s to help ground yourself back in reality without getting your thoughts racing. Grounding yourself helps ease the stress of the attack. Stress management is very subjective based on what makes you feel at ease so if this does not work for you then that’s fine.

Grounding and redirection can play a dual role in coping with the inner critic without throwing back into the loop of an anxiety cycle. This can be exacerbated during the holidays and all that may be happening in the news. Yet it is important to sit back and recognize that these are normal and can be sedated.

What are your strategies for coping with anxiety or intrusive thoughts? Write back to us with #illumentors!

  1. Stinckens, Nele; Lietaer, Germain; Leijssen, Mia (March 2002). “The inner critic on the move: analysis of the change process in a case of short-term client-centred/experiential therapy”. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 2 (1): 40
  2. Earley, Jay; Weiss, Bonnie (2010). Self-therapy for your inner critic: transforming self-criticism into self-confidence. Larkspur, CA: Pattern System Books. ISBN 9780984392711. OCLC 728324364

A World Without Mentors

(photo courtesy Muhammad Ali Center)

by Eli. A. Wolff, Partners for Youth with Disabilities & Mary A. Hums, University of Louisville

Eli and Mary have both worked in the area of mentoring for social change and have been part of the organizing team for the International Mentoring Day on January 17 of each year on Muhammad Ali’s birthday and during National Mentoring Month. This post originally appeared on the Mentor blog here.

“A world without mentors leaves so much untapped potential of millions of youth.” – National Mentoring Partnership

Have you ever had the power go out at your home? Especially if it happened at night, you likely stumbled around in the dark, searching for candles or a flashlight to help guide you. You may have even felt somewhat disconnected there in the dark. Finding your way in the dark creates challenges we do not have to overcome when there is light present. Light opens up our world, allows us to see and move freely. There is more to being able to see, however, than just needing physical light. We need the light of others to help us navigate the world. Some of the most powerful lights emanate from a most powerful source – mentors.

Now try to imagine a world without mentors. Mentors are interwoven into the fabric of our communities, our institutions and our world. So much that happens in our world directly connects to the role mentors play in facilitating and inspiring growth, development and change. They guide us along the way, which at times can be very dark. So what would happen to individuals, communities and our world without mentors?

First, without mentors a significant gap in potential not just for individuals, but for organizations and the world at large, would emerge. Mentors are the connective tissue, the dream-makers and the people who help motivate, inspire and facilitate opportunities for us to reach our potential. Their absence creates an immense gap in individual and societal growth and development. Without mentors, this lost potential would impact our future leaders, our local and global businesses and economies, and eventually all sectors of society including employment, education, health care, social services, entertainment and sports. It’s tough to measure the loss of something that was never allowed to happen.

Additionally, a world without mentors would exacerbate inequality and disenfranchisement. Mentors are critical for facilitating access and promoting the values of equality and inclusion. Mentors help us bridge the gaps among diverse communities and shine a light toward equality and justice. Without mentors, there would be much greater inequality and segregation in our local and global communities. Without mentors, there would be fewer opportunities for diverse populations to access pathways to resources for education and employment. Without mentors the distance and disconnect between the marginalized and those in positions of influence and power will only become greater and seemingly more insurmountable to those on the fringes of society.

Third, a world without mentors would be a world consumed by isolation and disconnect. Mentors are the interlockers, the resource brokers, the connectors and bridge-makers. Without mentors too many communities would exist in isolation and loneliness. Mentors help to bring positivity and joy through connection, growth and goal attainment. It would be hard to imagine a society lacking in these nurturing attributes.  Mentors hold such an important, often overlooked place in our communities, so it is a healthy exercise to think about what happens without them. Realizing what society would lose if mentors were absent can ensure that we work as hard as possible to bring mentors to all corners of the world.

Reflecting on a world without mentors helps us to appreciate the power of mentoring and the need for mentors for individuals and communities around the world. It is important that people everywhere celebrate the power of mentoring on January 17 – International Mentoring Day. This particular day is celebrated on Muhammad Ali’s birthday, which fittingly falls during National Mentoring Month. Muhammad Ali was an iconic worldwide mentor whose legacy reinforces and highlights the power of mentoring.  He was truly a light to the world. As we celebrate International Mentoring Day and honor the legacy of Muhammad Ali, let us tirelessly work together to ensure an environment where mentoring can shine forth and we never have to navigate or experience a world without the light of mentors.

Engage on social media for International Mentoring Day by using hashtags #InternationalMentoringDay, #MentorIRL & #MentoringMonth and tag the handles @MentoringDay, @MENTORnational & @AliCenter