Whenever Paula Bruner, 45, is presented with an opportunity for career advancement, she must make a case for why she’s the right person for the job. However, it’s not her boss or another colleague that the Washington, D.C.-based employment discrimination attorney must convince. Rather, it is herself. “All these negative thoughts come to my mind,” says Bruner.
Everyone suffers from moments of doubt. “The inner critic is that voice that comes from the negative messages usually derived from childhood,” says Dr. Dionne Hollis, a psychologist based in Cincinnati. It says such things as ‘you’re not good enough,’ ‘you’re not smart enough,’ or even ‘you shouldn’t wear your hair like that because people might not think it’s attractive,’” Hollis continues.
Bruner’s inner critic was particularly brutal during the months after she had finished law school and was studying to take the bar exam. “It would say, ‘you’re probably not going to pass,” she says.
That’s when Bruner learned how to counteract those negative thoughts. “When the negative voice would speak, I would say to myself, “I know you studied, you’re going to pass,” she recalls. “It would say ‘you know most people don’t pass the bar the first time.’ And I would respond, ‘yeah, but I’m going to pass the bar because I can’t afford to take it again.’ I never allowed the negativity to rest. It was always a debate. Fortunately, the positive typically prevails.”
The key to managing your inner critic is how you respond. “Are you going to agree with what the critic said or are you going to counter it with something positive?” asks Niambi Jarvis, founder of Hiyaah Power (www.hiyaahpower.com) and co-author of 100 Words of Wisdom for Women (Renaissance Press; $16.95).
Another way to disarm the inner critic: “Write a letter to your critic and tell it off,” says Hollis. “Or, I’ve had people draw what their critic looks like and give it a silly name. That takes the power away from the critic.”
Whatever method you use to combat the inner critic’s ugly messages, the key is to be persistent and to exercise your faith. “When that inner voice gets tired of being beaten down, it won’t rise up as quickly the next time,” Bruner says.
B.E.’s Successpert Speaks
Your inner critic does not have to be your biggest enemy. Niambi Jarvis, founder of the online empowerment community Hiyaah Power, offers the following strategies for working through your self-doubt:
Correct the critic gently. Every time you have a negative thought, write it down. Then, immediately follow it with a positive statement. “When you acknowledge the blessings or the bounties in your life, you balance the critic.”
Learn the critic’s lessons. Your inner critic often points out weaknesses that you can improve upon. “Take the steps to actually make that effective change in your life,” says Jarvis.