When we summon the courage to take a risk or make a change, we often encounter fear and a little voice that talks trash. “You won’t be good at it. Don’t try it. You’ll fail anyway. It’s not worth the humiliation. Try again later. It won’t be good enough. Everyone will laugh at you, etc.” This is your inner critic talking.
We all experience vulnerability and we all have an inner critic. It’s just part of the human psyche. When they clash, whose team wins?
Let’s start by explaining each side.
Most people grow up believing that vulnerability is weakness. Over 13,000 pieces of data in the research of Dr. Brené Brown show that vulnerability is actually courage. The definition of vulnerability is the following: risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure. We fear the unknown, what will happen if we go to the interview for the job we don’t feel qualified for. What will happen if you tell your partner how you really feel. The uncertainty and the risk mixed with fear are a recipe for anxiety and just fodder for your inner critic, right? Well… Brown’s research also shows that vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging and joy. What we all really want. That risk can lead to reward and not just pain?? Yes. Vulnerability requires courage
The Inner Critic
The inner critic’s purpose is to keep us safe. When something went wrong in childhood, it planted seeds in your inner critic’s mind that doing that wasn’t safe. It created conditions where you learned what was safe and what was too risky. This can be as simple as-- If you touch the stove when it’s hot, then you’ll get burned. You can see then, that in a good way, your inner critic wants to keep you safe. He or she doesn’t want to see you get hurt. So the next time you go near something hot, you’ll hear an internal warning to be careful or to steer clear. However, the inner critic doesn’t grow up and mature in the same way. It’s rooted in absolutes and believes every danger is 100% true and will happen. The first time you got your heartbroken because you told someone how you felt? Your inner critic will tell you never to talk about your feelings with your partner that openly again. It wants to share the worst case scenario with you, as it believes it is guaranteed to happen in order to stop you in your tracks. So what’s one to do?
1. Call it out. Inner Critic, I hear you. What are you trying to protect me from? What are you so worried will happen? How do you know that’s true?
2. Thank him or her for trying to protect you from harm. Acknowledge that there’s a part of you that exists for self-protection, but sometimes to your own detriment.
3. What if that wasn’t true? A million other things could happen. Something amazing could happen. You’ll never know if you don’t take steps forward. What else could be true if you do this?
4. Create safety for yourself. First, get present and recognize where you are. Are you safe, like physically safe, where you are? Are you in danger now? If things don’t go as planned, what can you or will you do?
5. Write it down if you have to. If things don’t go as planned (good, bad, or indifferent), I’ll___________. Call my best friend. Get a massage. Watch a movie that makes me cry so I can just cry it out. Go the gym and hit the punching bag. Have a celebratory dinner with my partner. Have a solo dance party to feel the joy of being rewarded for trying and taking the risk. Express gratitude to myself for trying.
When we are vulnerable and show up in our lives, great things can happen. Does that mean we never get hurt? No. Brené also says that the bravest among us are also the most brokenhearted. We cannot go through life unscathed. If we allow our inner critic to control our lives, we will likely never take risks, step into uncertainty, and expose our emotions. While you may stay safe, you will also not experience the fruits of courage: love, belonging, and joy.
You are the mediator between your own sense of vulnerability and your inner critic. You can experiment with how much risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure you can tolerate. Understand your limits and recognize your own growth. It’s amazing how much you’ll surprise yourself when you give yourself permission to go for it.