The one-two punch goes like this. Let’s say first, the inner critic starts mumbling to you about how everyone else in the room has it more together than you do. Then the critic follows up with “Get a grip; get some perspective.” Or “What is wrong with you? Other people are confident and relaxed … just look over there, at Susan ...” In other words, the critic first attacks you with critical thoughts and then shames you for having those thoughts. That is its one-two punch.
The inner critic may take inspiration from critical people in your life.
You may hear echoes of a critical parent, a sibling, or boss in your inner critic’s voice. Or you may hear echoes of the ethos of or major cultural forces such as your religion, company, or country. Our outer critics come to exist inside our own heads.
Often women say to me, “But there are things I’m truly not qualified for, or not good at. How do I know if I’m hearing my inner critic talking or I’m just being realistic?”
That’s a really important question, because of course, there are things we aren’t ready for, and weaknesses in our skills. In addition to using the list of the 11 qualities of the inner critic’s voice above, here’s how you can tell the difference between the irrational inner critic and solid realistic thinking.
Makes definite pronouncements about the situation
Asks curious questions about the situation
Has no interest in actual evidence
Interested in gathering evidence to inform conclusions
Thinks and speaks in black-and-white terms
Is able to deal with complexity and gray areas
Asks binary yes/no questions (“Is it possible? Yes or no? Am I qualified? Yes or No?)
Asks helpful, open-ended questions (“How might it be possible? What part of this looks possible?)
Focuses on problems/lacking areas
Speaks in an anxious tone
Speaks in a calmer tone
Speaks from a fundamental stance of self-critique
Speaks from a fundamental stance of self-support
The realistic thinker in us is forward-moving. She seeks solutions. The critic will spin and spin, ruminating on the risks and worst-case scenarios. The critic often speaks in an anxious, emotionally charged tone. The realistic thinker sounds grounded, clear-eyed, calm.
Many of us hold the belief that “realistic thinking” is skeptical if not pessimistic, but, in fact, realistic thinking is inquisitive, exploratory, and highly creative.