What to Do with Your Inner Critic


I wish I could stop beating myself up so much.

I am often harsh with myself. Critiquing oneself is necessary to get better at a skill. But judgmental criticism is different. It can be debilitating.

Critiquing focuses my internal Q&A on what caused my actions and what other options are available.

  • Why did you do it that way?
  • What did you learn from that choice?
  • How could you do it better next time?

Criticizing focuses on shaming. It uses questions to deliver judgments about who and what I am, not what I did.

  • Why are you always so careless? (implied: I’m consistently and woefully careless)
  • What were you thinking? (implied: I wasn’t thinking, and typically don’t)
  • When are you ever going to get it right? (implied: no matter how hard I try, I’m fated to do it poorly)

Though I am now more often able to transform the criticism into a critique, it doesn’t always work. Frankly, I’ve come to see my inner critic is not really a source of “truth”. Like a good lawyer, “winning the argument” is his goal.

I used to think my inner critic didn’t like me. Hated me, in fact. But I’ve begun to look at my critic differently and I’m amazed at what I’m discovering.

My inner critic is trying to get my attention for something good. He learned what causes me pain and wants to warn me. Granted, he does so like a junior high bully; but that’s about how old he is. That’s when he came on line.

Truth is, my inner critic wants to keep me from repeating painful mistakes. And if I think about it, someone who works that hard to protect me must care for me.

Did I just write that? My inner critic likes me!

So now, when I feel the inner critic arising, I stop to have a conversation with him:

  • First, I appreciate him for noticing. “Thanks for seeing the danger. You sure have a good radar!”
  • Next, I question him respectfully. “What bad thing are you trying to protect me from?”
  • Then, I thank him for his tireless work. “I’m glad you look out for my well-being; you are so vigilant.”
  • Finally, I assure him. “I want you to know: I got this. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. I see the danger, and I’m on it.”

My inner critic is not a demon to cast out. He’s a wounded boy who is scared.

So next time your inner critic shouts at you, sit him down face to face. Have a talk. You might find he’s got a warning worth heeding. And he’s been hoping there’s a grown-up somewhere who will listen.


– By Judson Poling

Judson met Greg Huston (The Crucible Project’s founder) in 2002 and staffed his first initial weekend the following spring. Judson is a founding board member of The Crucible Project and co-developer of The Crucible Project’s four second-level weekends. He also served on staff of Willow Creek Community Church for 29 years. Judson is now a best-selling author and President of Cambia Resources, LLC, doing consulting, coaching and freelance writing.