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Why Are We So Cruel to Ourselves?

photo credit: Craig Whitehead

When toddlers play together it is a no holds barred fun fest. It doesn’t matter who is there, kids will walk right up to one another and ask to play. Sure there is the piece about not really understanding how to share and the ensuing tantrums. But, in general there is no worry about whether the other kids will like us, whether my Hee Haw overalls will become the object for harassment (true story!) or whether we are cool enough to play in the tanbark together.

But then the dynamic changes. As we grow we learn. There is a lot to navigate within the playground/social structure. Our peers will let us know what is cool, geeky, what gets you the silent treatment or leads to banishment from the group. And the “what” that leads to the silent treatment or falling out of favor could be at the whim of the ring leader. Siblings and family can play into the learning too.

So, what does the playground school of hard knocks teach us? How to avoid the knocks! We want to belong so badly. As kids we analyze the situation as best as we can, use our limited experiences and try to navigate the minefield. The inner dialogue ends up sounding something like...

  • Don’t say something stupid again

  • Don’t dress like a dork anymore

  • Stop raising your hand in class like a know it all

  • Don’t speak up, you will get teased at again

  • Be really, really nice...but not too nice

  • Stop drawing, Susie said your drawings suck

  • Don’t say anything that will upset the group, sitting alone was terrible

Our younger selves were geniuses. We learned how to navigate our worlds while trying to mitigate the damage and avoid being a social pariah. In spite of the inner dialogue sounding harsh (and it is) its purpose is to protect us. Our inner critic lobs insults at us to keep from going out into the world and getting lambasted by peers, family, strangers or anyone else who might have a negative impact.


Here’s the problem, when we hear things over and over we start to believe them. And after years of those beliefs being triggered repeatedly they become our default. So what started as avoiding the minefield becomes our truth as adults. It can show up as:

  • Not speaking up for fear of upsetting someone or looking stupid

  • Saying yes when you mean no

  • Not going after a job, promotion, career, relationship etc because you don’t believe you can get it or don’t deserve it

  • Not feeling like you are good enough

  • Worrying what others think or say

Neither of these lists are exhaustive. Your inner critic may sing similar or other tunes. The intention to protect you is the same, but it is getting in the way. You are not a kid on the playground who is going to get teased for your overalls anymore (thankfully!). The kind of protection your inner critic is providing is no longer necessary and is likely holding you back from the life you really want.

Pay attention to the way you speak to yourself. I’d bet money you’d never talk to a good friend or a child the same way; that is your inner critic. Awareness is always the first step. Once you have an idea of what the voice sounds like, see if you can find evidence that contradicts it. For example: “I don’t actually suck I have a couple of really good friends that I can count on”. Banishing our inner critic completely isn't likely to happen, but with practice we can shift the impact it has. It won’t happen overnight, but it change is possible if we stick to it.

If you want to learn more about the inner critic and go in-depth on how to lessen its power join me for a live workshop on 1/20/18 in Benicia, CA. Details can be found at

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