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Say Hello and Goodbye to Your Harsh Critic

Updated: Mar 13

“You are joking, right? You’re actually thinking about going out… there?!?! What are you thinking???


Sound familiar? If not these specific words, I imagine the feelings conjured up by this statement are quite familiar. Self-doubt, second guessing, hesitancy, even feelings of fear come to my mind. For many of us, this likely started as messages from parents or siblings from our childhoods that were passed down, internalized, and made our own.


Say hello to your harsh critic. We all have one, though each are unique to our individual experiences. In the instance described above, my harsh critic was commenting on my decision to begin training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a freshly minted 40-year-old man. The reasons behind this decision are for another day, but suffice to say I was feeling very nervous to get started. I had kicked this can down the road for over a year. When I finally made the decision to attend my first class, here comes this inner voice telling me I’m crazy, or worse, incapable. My harsh critic was working hard to keep me from getting on the mat and giving it a shot.


Think about your own life and experiences. Remember times when you wanted to try something new, or meet new people, or pursue a goal or challenge. I’m confident everyone can identify times when their own self-doubt and critical voice said “nope, not gonna happen.” For my own experience, these situations often involved trying to keep up with my older brothers in sports, martial arts, any kind of undertaking that was inherently physical and competitive. I’ve read somewhere that comparison is the thief of joy, and this was certainly the case for me growing up the youngest of three boys.


Maybe your harsh critic sounded more like “you don’t have the time” or “you are too old” or “you aren’t going to be able to handle it”, all of which were part of my dialogue with my harsh critic. Each of our harsh critics are unique in their voice; however, the outcome tends to be universal: they prevent change. But why prevent change? Isn’t change good? While change can definitely be healthy and adaptive, our minds (and brains) tend to view change and newness as potential danger.

Change = new = uncertainty = DANGER


Another way of thinking about this is: we gravitate towards things that are familiar and we push away from things that are unfamiliar. Things that represent uncertainty also represent danger (or potential danger). And danger should be avoided. So, in a way, our harsh critic is trying to protect us by keeping us out of potential danger. It’s sweet really.


But therein lies the issue: not everything new and uncertain is dangerous. Not everything that is unfamiliar to us should be avoided. Remember those experiences in your life you’ve avoided or procrastinated on… was there any actual danger or potential danger? This is not to diminish the real dangers that exist in our world. Rather, reflect on your own subjective experiences and ask yourself, what was I afraid of? What was I trying to protect myself from?


The harsh critic is trying to protect us, but in ways that end up being unhelpful and self-limiting. And all too often the harsh critic wins out. But, here’s a secret: we don’t need that kind of protection. Our harsh critics were developed early in our lives to protect us when we were more vulnerable and less capable of protecting ourselves. The harsh critic does not appreciate our strengths, our capabilities, the knowledge and skills we’ve acquired over time. The harsh critic does not know who we are today, in the here and now.


The harsh critic is an old solution, outdated technology trying to address a current problem.

We need to address current problems with up-to-date tools and solutions. We need to show up to the here-and-now from the here-and-now. When we can focus on the here-and-now, we gain access to all of the knowledge and skills we’ve acquired up to this point. This is the person who can provide us the kind of protection we need; this is the version of ourselves who can handle the issue and the discomfort we are facing. I will always be the youngest of three brothers; however, I am also a capable adult who faced uncertainties, overcome challenges, and can bet on himself. That’s the version of me who can best handle current problems or stressors, a version who doesn’t need the harsh critic’s protection.

It's a great idea, but how do we do this? The first step is to get to know your harsh critic in a new way. Therapy can be helpful in understanding your harsh critic. And there are various therapeutic skills which can help us to manage the stressors and overcome the obstacles that prevent growth and change. There is a recipe for letting go of our harsh critic.


Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at 954-228-0533 or to learn more about how to say hello to, and then let go of, your harsh critic. I look forward to speaking with you soon!

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