How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Inner Critic

Jordan Lome

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 subpersonality (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.

I remember when about a year or so ago that I had Aspergers, I recalled reading an article of adult women who had been diagnosed with ASD late in life. As in diagnosed at the age of 40 or above. It was clinical workers who were able to say to them, not from their closest family or co-workers. I read that article thinking to myself, who had been going through ADHD since I was young, is why I still felt disconnected from everyone else after managing my disability. I knew I had trouble reading social cues and I was working on leveraging my sense of humor but it felt harder than ever as an adult to still make friends and to even rationalize my behavior.

This then manifested in an inner critic, one that lives to tell me I should not be happy. That I spend all these years for nothing and have not learned anything. That services for my stop once I enter the real world and no one will forgive if I mess up. I worked in environments where I had people I both trusted and felt uneasy with and both sides of the spectrum still gave me insomnia coupled with social anxiety.

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 the 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, fortunately, had a life coach who validated my anxieties. She mentioned to me that it’s common for women, especially at a young age to be misdiagnosed or not seen yet with learning or developmental disabilities. Seeing and speaking with more women my age and above with ASD, Aspergers, and ADHD, made life make so much sense and easy. I felt that I know had to keep disclosing my disability if I felt like I failed at something and didn’t want people to hate me. I still feel a lingering sense of paranoia. That one mistake is the end of my goals and careers. That the scenarios I’m making in my head are just too nonsensical to actually happen. The stress still makes me feel both physically and mentally unwell.

But then I remember all the things it took to get here. All the stuff and embarrassing moments where I sat down and had to internally apologize to myself both apologizing to the person, who was confused at why I needed to apologize. Soon, I didn’t need to apologize for who I am. I say instead, thank you for understanding. I feel empowered and in control when I say that at work. And I still get stuff done. I know my inner critic still pays rent in my head but small moments where I remember how much I learned and still learn makes a little more in my favor during those internal struggles.

The key is to say to yourself that you are stupid for thinking of these thoughts or being irrational. Rather, it’s to help ground yourself back into 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.

I currently work in a one to one mentoring program for all youth with disabilities. I help engage these youth in their community and provide with outlets to advocate their needs to decision-makers, letting them know that they are the decision-makers in their lives. I don’t even need to do anything, I listen to them and know that all is well and all will be well.