The Terrible Fallout of Self-Criticism


When your inside voice shouts at you constantly over minor offences like forgetting to buy milk, the effect is not like listening to Baroque music.

Calling yourself an idiot, or worse - as if you had just committed an unspeakable act - is ultimately harmful.

The torture we inflict as we hurl insults against the soft walls of our hearts is indefensible. This habit destroys inner fibre.

Fortunately, habits can change.

One of the biggest hurdles to self-confidence and personal power is that unrelenting, critical inner voice, that habitual rake-you-over-the-coals-just-for-breathing jeer that keeps you small, invisible and ashamed.

It's not the voice of excitement inspiring you to improve your team's sense of playfulness.

It's not the voice of curiosity encouraging you to speak to your boss from her perspective so she'll be more likely to consider your ideas.

Nor is it the voice of creativity moving you to create empathy with your audience for a presentation.

Some people will tell you that a little fear from your inner critic serves to keep you safe. But it's not innocently protecting you. It terrorizes, and that prevents you from playing bravely in the arena.

Your inner voice needs to be your champion and advocate, not your persecutor.

As Outside, So Inside

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with friends about the impact of religious beliefs on our parents and upbringing. And about the disapproving and oftentimes ruthless ways in which family, religion and other systems controlled us, and still do.

Even today, they said, their elderly parents will create drama, yell and criticize their 50-something children - mostly for crimes of independent thinking and living - and often in front of their grandchildren.

My friends work at accepting, forgiving, and not letting these encounters bother them. At 85, they don't think their folks can change.

Though I believe in forgiveness and holding parents blameless for choices we make as adults, I'm a fierce advocate for not tolerating hurtful behaviour that harms our psyches.

The visceral power of ongoing anger, criticism, guilt and punishment from anyone - family, bosses, friends, partners - has lasting and grave repercussions.

Fear and trauma stay in the bones and emotional neutrality is not an easy position to reach from that state, much as I wish it were so for my friends, for you and for all of us.

The fallout takes years of healing and renders trust and confidence painfully inaccessible.

Criticism Poisons

Strictly controlled, forced to conform and criticized for not complying - you absorb what you learn - that you are bad, wrong and undeserving.

As a child in that system, it makes sense that you'd draw conclusions of unworthiness. Unfortunately, this bombardment gets ingested and turns into the inner critic.

Even worse, you will unconsciously stop yourself from succeeding, being happy and feeling you deserve goodness.

Though equipped with adult logic, it is no defence against the unconscious and the spells that years of criticism have cast.

Emotionally, you hurt inside; you bury feelings only to find the monster biting you in the night, keeping you doubtful and timid.

In the meantime, not surprisingly, these disrespectful family members, friends, bosses and peers control themselves impeccably when they want to look good. Sweet and polite in public with doctors, friends and people in power, they don't utter a disagreeable word if it's to their advantage.

Yes, they can self-manage and control themselves. Privately, they're allowed to keep hurting.

But enabling doesn't serve anyone. It pays to understand that tolerating repeated unkindness from others turns inward and undermines you.


Conversely, you light up like a blazing fire when someone appreciates you for who you are. You collect their glowing words for safekeeping because they gleam like beams of liquid sunlight.

Does it require skills and courage to ask people to stop offending and treat you well?


But if your child or pet were being continually bullied, you'd figure out how to stop it and you'd ask for whatever help you needed to end it.

Whose harmful actions do you currently tolerate in your private life? In the workplace?

And what is that costing you?

By asking for what you need and setting boundaries, you teach people how to treat you.

And at the same time, you retrain yourself to invite the voice of gentleness and kindness, and focus on the inner sage thereby weakening the critic.

In both cases, practice will change your life and give birth to the goodness and success you so richly deserve.

Top photo credit: mjtmail (tiggy) / Foter / CC BY
Bottom photo credit: flintman45 / Foter / CC BY-SA

Miriam Linderman works with soulful women who want to lead powerfully, authentically and unapologetically. Find her here at