Some people call it Impostor Syndrome. Others see it as a simple lack of self-confidence. Whatever you may call that inner critic, it describes that silent voice in your head that can shake you to your very core. Someone in your congregation asks you an important question, and the critic sneers, “How can you pass yourself off as an expert?” As you walk up to pulpit, the voice is there with “You’re going to mess this up and embarrass yourself.” While you wait for the interview for that new opportunity, the voice suggests you can’t possibly be the best candidate, so why are you even trying?
We all deal with the inner critic to some degree, even if we don’t want to admit to it. This negative self-talk erodes our confidence and often drives us down a path that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We count on our faith to overcome this voice, but that’s easier said than done. So how can you put your inner critic back in his or her place?
Pay attention to what it’s saying
It might seem strange to suggest listening to that voice, but if you take a moment to focus on what it’s telling you, you may be able to recognize the root of it. Often, it’s something from your past – the way a parent or professor made you feel inadequate, or a one-time event that caused your embarrassment. Sometimes, it’s a criticism you took to heart. Now your brain calls it to attention and magnifies its importance. Getting back to the root can help you know how to respond.
As strange as it sounds, we can’t let the inner critic have the last or any lingering word. Respond by reminding yourself what you’d say to a friend or colleague who said something that just isn’t true. Think of the words you’d use to reassure that person if they talked about themselves the way the critic is talking about you, then remind yourself of those same truths.
Build a rational case
Even though we’re capable of rational thought, humans are emotional too. When we’re passed over for a career opportunity, we immediately become that ten-year-old who didn’t make the softball team. Maybe we won’t cry this time, but we feel the hurt in our gut. Force yourself past the emotion and start lining up evidence the inner critic is wrong. Put as much effort into remembering your success, potential and possibility.
Improve what you can
Again, nobody’s perfect. When your inner critic comes at you, there may be an element of truth in what it’s saying. Maybe you don’t know as much about the subject as you feel you should. So take some time to learn. Perhaps it’s time to take a class, attend a specialized workshop, or read that book your colleague recommended. Taking positive action can reduce the sting of the criticism and be a motivator for growth.
Go easy on yourself
You offer grace to so many. Someone snaps at you after a service, and you tell yourself they’re simply having a bad week and taking it out on you. Compassion is a normal element of your calling and you use it freely as you try to understand those around you. Why not extend a little of that compassion to yourself, too? Admit you’re not perfect … and recognize you can’t be.
If you use these strategies and find the inner critic continues to outshout the happier voices, you may want to consider talking with a professional counselor. An outside observer can help you see things you may have missed. For example, they might be able to help you get to the root of that self-criticism, then show you healthier ways to react, so the voice of truth becomes the one you hear.
Jared Jones combines the use of cognitive and behavioral strategies to help young people who struggle with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations.