Survival Skills: Disarming the Inner Critic
is no enemy within, the enemy without can do you no harm.
anything on your dissertation lately? How familiar does this sound?
Maybe you're just too busy, or your advisor has not been very
helpful, or you picked the wrong topic, or you never were a good
writer? Maybe you're worried that you are not going to finish
after all the years and all the money that you have tied up in
What I have
found in talking with dissertation writers is that pressure from
the Inner Critic is what really blocks you from taking action
on your dissertation. In case you're unfamiliar with the concept,
the Inner Critic is the one who makes up that the dissertation
is some amazing, super-human feat that you are not capable of
completing. Often this creates performance anxiety that shuts
down your ability to engage in productive activity. Somehow, if
you can free yourself of self-doubts and worries about how critical
your committee is going to be, you may find that you have more
energy available to work on your dissertation. So the real challenge
is...how to manage the Inner Critic so that your own unique Creative
Scholar shines out!
What is the Inner Critic?
Critic that I am referring to is the inner voice that we sometimes
mistakenly believe to be our own. Typically, it develops when
we're quite young to help us get approval and acceptance and to
protect us from the bad things that might happen to us. It preaches
all the "shoulds" and all the "shall nots"
that we grew up with. Often modeled after parents and social norms,
the Inner Critic likes to criticize and correct us before others
can. Sadly, most people's Critic has long outgrown its usefulness
and instead has become a constant nuisance and an insidious self-sabateur.
Here are some
basic skills that you might consider adding to your dissertation
survival kit: notice when you're under attack by your Inner Critic,
name your Inner Critic and identify its strategy, confront the
Inner Critic, and, by all means, get support from others when
you need it.
Notice when you're under an Inner Critic attack.
What are some
of the signs that might alert you to an Inner Critic attack?
signs: self-criticism, procrastination, excessive worry, negative
thoughts about your options, black and white thinking, confusion,
signs: loss of motivation, discouragement, feelings of failure,
depression, low self-esteem, fear, feeling powerless.
signs: lack of energy, fatigue, sickness or injury.
Name your Inner Critic and identify its strategy.
enables you to extricate your identity from that of the Critic
and to see it as something separate from yourself. Your Critic
is the one that bombards you with thoughts like:
emphasize your Inadequacy or your Incompetence. Underneath them,
you are likely to find a more basic fear such as a fear of failure
or a fear of rejection and abandonment. These thoughts reflect
a way of thinking about the dissertation as the greatest achievement
of your life, your magnum opus. In fact, one of my clients refers
to his dissertation as The Titanic. And this thinking ignores
the value of the dissertation as a learning process whereby you
grow into a Creative Scholar and gradually develop into an expert
in your topic.
It is often
helpful to get to know your Inner Critic by simply observing it
for a week or so and writing down each of its criticisms. By becoming
familiar with the message your Critic is conveying to you, you
take the first step in beginning to disarm it.
Confront your Inner Critic.
own way of getting past your Critic. As a cognitive psychologist,
I might advise you to counter each negative thought with a positive
affirmation about your true value and your accomplishments. But
as a coach, I have discovered from my clients many other creative
ways of managing the Inner Critic. There are endless possibilities.
One of my clients wrote an ultimatum letter telling off her Critic.
She fired her Critic; you might also consider offering it a new
job description. Another client whose Inner Critic is affectionately
named The Driver has learned to send it off to herd cattle in
a different state when it becomes troublesome. Another client
has tamed her critic by drawing it and naming it Maynard. Another
client keeps a whistle handy and blows the whistle on the Inner
Critic whenever it rears its head. Yet another client sends it
off to a desert island. Or you might consider shrinking it to
the size of a mouse (since if you are reading this, there have
probably been times when your Critic has taken on enormous proportions),
dropping it by the tail into a big jar, and then putting the lid
on very, very tightly!
some possibilities for managing your Inner Critic. I'll leave
it up to you to find a resourceful way to face your Critic and
then get into action on your dissertation.
Get Support when you really need it.
it. There are going to be times in the dissertation process when
the going gets rough. You may even become so self-critical that
you reach an impasse. That's the time to seek support from friends
or even from a coach or therapist who can help you refute the
Inner Critic and reaffirm your own Creative Scholar. The best
advice I can give you is to assemble your own inner support committee
of coaches, mentors and people who believe in you. One of my clients
has her grandmother chair this committee! Let this committee give
you regular pep talks. Visualize your inner support committee
members and take them with you to meetings with your Advisor,
to your Orals, to interviews, and to other professional presentations.
Imagine them cheering for you.
Inner Critic is a never-ending story but it does get easier with
practice. Every time you disarm the Critic, you take one step
forward towards claiming the voice of your Creative Scholar. So
why not make this your own Inner Critic Awareness Week!
The author Dr. Sally Jensen is a dissertation coach and consultant
and can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org