Internal Critic Containment Tool

March 25, 2011

Internal Critic

I think everyone has an internal critic; the little voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough. That you’re wasting your time. That you’re worthless or hopeless or useless or that you’ll never make it.

We all KNOW that we can’t trust that voice.  But KNOWING and FEELING are two very different things and it’s awfully difficult to push that voice aside when it gets insistent – which is usually just about the point when we need the most strength to make it through failures or setbacks in our goals.

And I’m not just talking about writing here. Any time I try to do something that I might possibly fail at, BAM! There’s my internal critic, ready with a list of reasons why I shouldn’t even bother trying.


I don’t want to silence that critic completely. It is, at least somewhat, a voice of reason. A voice of possibilities and a warning of danger. I don’t want to discount any wisdom behind that voice.

However, I don’t want to cower in fear before it, either. I want to listen, calmly and reasonably, to what it has to say and then make my OWN decisions about what I want to do.

That same voice that tells me I should just give up on writing altogether if I’m going to write so many adverbs is akin to the voice that tells me jumping out of a plane is probably not the safest vacation I could choose.

I want to CONTROL and MANAGE the voice, not squish it like a bug. (Full disclosure: sometimes I want to squish it like a bug.)


This isn’t my tool. Though I practiced a version of it before reading this blog post over at The Blood-Red Pencil (great writing blog, by the way), it never really CLICKED for me until I read it there.


1) Voice

Try this. Call up your inner critic in your mind’s eye. Go ahead, close your eyes and just listen for a minute.  If you’re anything like me, you have more trouble shutting the voice up than you do getting it to speak.

Can you hear it? Good.

Is it a male or female voice?

Interestingly enough, the gender of the person doesn’t seem to affect the gender of the critic. One friend was actually really surprised to find that she heard her critic as male – she’d never really tried to visualize the voice before.

2) Appearance

Now that you’ve got the gender down, close your eyes and try to SEE the critic.

This one may take a while. The more detailed the mental image you can create of your critic, the more useful this exercise is.

Got that far? Awesome! The original post suggested that the critic might be human, inhuman, a column of smoke – really, anything. Don’t try to force a single image – just let the voice talk and try to imagine what the speaker looks like.

My visualization is nothing like that of the original poster, but I found it fascinating to read the description of her critic.

3) Name

Okay, now can you NAME that critic? (I’ll admit, I haven’t reached this point, myself yet, but I’m working on it)

4) Introductions

Say hello to your critic for me.  Say hello for yourself, while you’re at it. You are sort of meeting for the first time.

Do you LIKE your critic? Are they the kind of person you’d ask for advice, or take seriously? Are they goofy? Just plain mean? Hateful?

5) Maintenance

Every time you hear that voice, imagine your mental image of your critic saying those same things.

Makes it a little easier to separate the logic from the emotional impact of their words, doesn’t it?

I’m going to follow the suggestion of the original poster at Blood-Red Pencil and write a few short stories about my critic once I’ve developed their character. I want to suck all that unwarranted power out of their voice. I’ll still listen, but it’s not some faceless shadowy voice any more.

How About You?

I’m too old to have monsters in my closet or unknown beasties under my bed.

Anyone else want to grab a flashlight and shine a light on your critics?


  • Steve Hall March 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    My critic only shows up after I do something. Usually, it’s there to tell me stuff I already know about why and how I screwed up. (Not being flippant here: I’m my own best second-guesser.)

    On the other hand, I generally do learn from those mistakes, and while the repeat performance may not be perfect, it’s always an improvement.

    It’s sort of like how I used to play golf. I was never, ever very good. But in every round, there were those one, or two, or three shots that I hit perfectly, and knew as I hit them that I’d done everything right. And those were the shots I remembered, and that brought me back to the course again. Not the 120 or so other, not so good attempts.

    Of course, I’m an eternal optimist, too. No matter what I try that is new or different, I tend to go in with the attitude that “I’m gonna nail this!” There’s never time or room for that internal critic to pop up with all the naysaying. That doesn’t mean I believe my first attempt will be perfect, but it does mean that I believe that first attempt will at least be “good enough” that I’ll want to keep plugging away.

    *grin* You’ve seen that with my writing.

    • Tami March 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      That’s awesome (and I do mean that)

      In the same situation, I would ignore the good shots and beat myself to a pulp with my bad shots. “Why am I not an expert yet? I’ve been playing all of TWO HOURS. boy, I really suck at this game.”

      *eyeroll at self*

  • The Original Drama Mama March 27, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Hmmm…I fear some of those suggestions for naming and visualizing your critic might push me off the teeter-totter into crazeee land. Seriously though, I can see the benefit to acknowledging that voice and dealing with it.

    Personally, I need to work harder on shutting that b*tch up (the voice is most certainly female) and giving my inner-cheerleader more time up on my shoulder.

    I am loving P!nk’s song, Perfect right now. Loving. It.

    • Tami March 28, 2011 at 7:49 am

      *winks* It’s fun here in Crazee Land. We have cookies.

  • Graham Strong March 27, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Great post, Tami!

    My inner critic is most certainly me. Or my evil twin. Or my evil twin-cum-alter-ego. It is not someone else, in any case.

    But I embrace that evil me. Somewhat, at least — I don’t want to contain him completely, is what I’m saying. Although that critic can be annoying and even detrimental to writing, I think he is also a key part of the process.

    First, I think if you can write in the face of that, you are really earning your chops. Second, it gives you someone to “show off to” as you’re writing. Kind of a “take that, you evil twin critic” kind of thing. It’s like setting up a competition with yourself, a Lennon and McCartney team duking it out in your head that actually improves the writing.

    That’s my experience, anyway.


    • Tami March 28, 2011 at 7:48 am

      I wish my “evil twin” was that sensible. As yet, she’s not. She’s just mean. Hopefully, personifying her will give me the tools to actually utilize her good ideas while negating her mean-itude.

  • Mother of Three, Anne March 28, 2011 at 8:10 am

    My internal critic is also just me. My voice, my being and not really even evil. More hysterical usually, but sometimes more pragmatic. As in “You cannot continue to give yourself excuses to put this off. That is lazy and irresonsible and unacceptable, so get this done today, you worthless git.” She does serve a worthy purpose.

    I have tired to remember if when I was younger my internal critic was different. More insecure, more unstable, more irrational. I don’t really remember. I mean, she had to have been, right?

    To her credit, my internal critic is very youthful looking. She has taken good care of herself and does like to mock me occassionally for not looking as good as she does for her age.

    • Tami March 28, 2011 at 8:40 am

      I hope my internal critic matures.

      No, wait, that’s not right.

      I will FORCE my internal critic to mature. *grin* I want the sensible advice but not the useless denigration. *firm nod*

      Is your internal critic like a Disney Princess? Maybe that’s where I’m getting it. ( )

  • Mother of Three, Anne March 28, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Oh, to have Jeff Bridges sweep me off my feet!

    Honestly, if I were a Disney princess, I would have to request that it be Andy Garcia sweeping me off my feet.

    Or maybe just to have anybody else but me do all the sweeping and mopping.

    Sometimes the sensible advise comes with denigration.

    Hey, here is something….

    Nick is particularly sensitive to negative voices and tones. I tell him to listen to the message, not the tone or the accompanying negativity. If the message is logical and sound, you should follow that lead. If the message is just ranting and spewing, you need to understand that someone is just venting and do not internalize anything that is being said as the issue is not with you.

    Like if I am yelling at him to get work done, my message is really that he needs to finish something. Whereas, if I am walking around the house ranting about how terrible children are and how they ruin your life, that is just aggravation that I am venting. I am serious in the first instance, but not in the second.

    Not that those things ever happen in my home. Sunshine, rainbows and cupcakes all the time.

    Anyway, you might find that separation of content versus delivery useful.

    • Tami March 28, 2011 at 9:22 am

      That is excellent advice. I definitely have a difficult time separating tone and content, though it would be useful in just about every aspect of my life. Well-stated, madam. I’ll have to work on that!

  • Mother of Three, Anne March 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I could give you examples of how useful that is.

    • Tami March 28, 2011 at 11:40 am

      No need. I can think of examples when I wish I’d used it.