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

Understanding the Iceberg Model of Childhood Behavior

An adult speaking to a teenage boy in a calming wayBehaviors are the result of the interactions of two things: the characteristics we possess as people and the characteristics of the situation we face. The theory behind the iceberg model of childhood behavior is that there are many things that influence the way that children act and react: skills, knowledge, experience, social role or values, self-image, traits, and motives. Some (the most conscious) of these characteristics can be seen outright – “above the water,” if you will. The more subconscious or unconscious characteristics are the ones working behind the scenes — “underwater.” It is a mixture of all of these characteristics that will shape a child’s behavior—meaning that the cause of the behavior won’t always be apparent.

The tip of the iceberg—the conscious characteristics that children have in their toolbox—are skills, knowledge, and experiences. Skills represent what children can do innately or things they have learned to do over time. Knowledge is what they know or have come to understand as they’ve grown. This knowledge is shaped by their experiences, which help build both the knowledge and skills available to them in their personal toolboxes.

Under the water, however, are the unseen forces that can shape their behaviors. This portion consists of four large components: their social role and values, self-image, traits, and motives. Continue reading “Understanding the Iceberg Model of Childhood Behavior”

Inclusive marketing: How to subtitle videos on a budget

If you want to learn more about inclusive marketing best practices, download our guidebook!

"CC" in word cloud, the symbol for Closed CaptioningWhen it comes to making your marketing inclusive for people with disabilities, one of the biggest difficulties is subtitling videos. In a small nonprofit, you don’t have the budget to be able to pay someone to create subtitles for all your videos (we’ve tried it, and boy, can it be expensive!), and you certainly don’t have the time to transcribe all your videos or the video-editing software to then add those transcriptions to your video. This is a real challenge, and one we’ve faced first-hand at PYD.

But lucky for you, there’s a solution! Over the course of our dealing with this challenge, we’ve come across a strategy that is free, quick, and easy for anyone to do, regardless of your technological know-how or background.

Continue reading “Inclusive marketing: How to subtitle videos on a budget”

Youth and Family Disability Resources: June 2016

It’s June, so it’s starting to warm up! Take a look below for some festivals, outdoor movies and concerts, and new resources along with some other free fun events.

Picnic and Lawn Games with Path-Way
Saturday, June 11, 11:00AM-3:00PM — Mayor Thomas Menino Park, Charlestown, Ma
Bring your family and friends to Thomas Menino Park on June 11th, and enjoy some of   PATH-WAY’s favorite   lawn games to include Cornhole Toss, Adaptive Mini Golf, Wheelchair Slalom, Giant Jenga, and so much more. There will be some food options, or you may bring your own picnic lunch. If interested, please contact, or go to

Inclusive by Design Concert
Saturday, June 18th, 7:00 PM — Sheraton Hotel, Dalton St. Boston
You are cordially invited to attend an Inclusive by Design concert featuring legendary New Orleans bluesman Henry Butler this June in Boston at the Americans for the Arts Conference. Guitarist Noé Socha will open for Henry. Nancy Ostrovsky will create a large mural during the concert in a performance art style to provide a visual art expression. American Sign Language and Audio Description and captioning will also be employed to broaden the scope of participation. Tickets are Free. Continue reading “Youth and Family Disability Resources: June 2016”

Rivka’s Report: Using technology to embrace affinities in kids with autism

For those new to PYD, Rivka Barrett served as our Ambassador of Mentoring in 2014-2015, and she’s stayed involved as a PYD board member since moving on. Currently, she’s working for an awesome new service for youth with autism, and wants to share a little bit about it so PYD families can take advantage!

After I graduated from college in 2012, I spent two years in the academic and healthcare sectors, planning to eventually get my Ph.D. But one day, I decided to try something new.

In June 2014, I went to a forum on mentoring for youth with disabilities where I met Steve and learned of an opening at PYD for an AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring. I applied, and luckily got the position! Through Steve, I began to learn about blogging and social media, offering me a new outlet to share resources and connect with the PYD community.

I’m now doing social media marketing for The Affinity Project, an assistive technology startup in Cambridge working to help families with ASD. The Affinity Project was founded by Ron Suskind, who wrote the bestselling book Life, Animated (which is now also a critically acclaimed documentary!), about his autistic son, Owen. Owen used his affinity for Disney movies to communicate with, and make sense of, the world around him.

In response to his book, Ron received a huge outpouring of stories from parents who had similar experiences with their children, or who wanted to know how to embrace their child’s passions as pathways for connection. Inspired to help others, Ron gathered a team of leading technologists and researchers to begin building Sidekicks – a fun online service that is helping families connect with and teach autistic kids through their strong interests, like Disney or LEGO.

Many children with autism have strong interests – or, as we like to call them, affinities – such as cars, trains, maps, math, robots, animals, and animated movies. Historically, doctors and therapists have suggested limiting access to affinities, on the grounds that they’re obsessive. But now many leading researchers are beginning to explore affinities as pathways for communication and connection. We’re finding that, in the case of animated movies, many kids find it easier to identify emotions in animated characters, whose facial expressions are more exaggerated than in real life. And ASD kids often appreciate the predictability of watching the same movies over and over.

Several of our staff have friends or loved ones with autism. And Owen, who has served as an advisor with our company, inspired the name of our Sidekicks service. As other kids jumped developmental hurdles, Owen noticed himself being left behind. He coped by taking on the role of a sidekick, the kind that helps the hero on his path. And in his words: “No sidekick gets left behind.”

The Affinity Project hopes to give ASD kids their own sidekicks so they can be the heroes. Our service involves three characters: the parent or therapist (the Coach), the Sidekick (an animated avatar) and the child with autism (the Hero). Here’s how it works:

Interested in trying it out? If your Hero loves Star Wars, Toy Story, or Harry Potter (and many other movies!), sign up for Sidekicks’ free Pilot Program at Or if you’d like to learn more, contact Rachel Verner directly at

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