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Learning to debate with your inner critic

28-04-2022|Anthony Gougeon

For Stress Awareness month, we have been sharing resources with our teams to help them look after themselves through various ways: a healthy diet, hydration, and meditation to name but a few. Today, Senior Paralegal Jennifer Mordi offers her thoughts on self-criticism and how learning to deal with our inner critic can help relieve stress, anxiety, and lead to a better appreciation of ourselves.

Which part of the elephant do you see?

Headshot of Jennifer Mordi, paralegal

Jennifer Mordi, Senior Paralegal

With April marking Stress Awareness month, it is a great time to turn your attention to your own individual mental health and take some time to check in on yourself. For this reason, it is a month I hold dear to my heart: a whole month dedicated to examining our thoughts and perceptions around mental health. This introspection has led me to consider the dangers of self-criticism at work and in life and why we tend to allow ourselves to be our worst critic at times.

Self-harm – a mental perspective

I like to think of myself as a positive person. I try as much as possible to use humour as my medicine to stave off negative emotions. Nevertheless, I have fallen victim (more times than I care to admit) to the mental trap of self-criticism. My examination of this behaviour has led me to notice a common denominator between these types of emotions. Self-criticism self-doubt (or Imposter Syndrome) and self-sabotage all involve harmful mental acts towards oneself. Oxford’s Learner’s Dictionary describes self-harm as “the practice of deliberately injuring oneself” but does not insist on solely physical injuries. Mentally harming oneself is so often discounted as a danger due to the lack of visible injury, but its effects can be as devastating as its physical counterpart.

The term “beating yourself up” is the clearest description I can use to illustrate what happens mentally when we overly criticise ourselves. It is one way in which the mind injures itself. The difficulty with this type of injury is that it is not visible to the naked eye. The consequence of this invisibility is that mental self-harming can go undetected or even misdiagnosed as self-preservation, being a realist or worst still, a figment of the imagination, until it manifests itself as a recognised mental health issue, in the form of anxiety for example or even depression.

It all begins with the inner critic

If we are the protagonist (in our own life) then our inner critic is the archetypal villain who lives in our mind. The inner critic was coined by psychologists Drs Hal and Sidra Stone during the 1970s. It refers to a subpersonality that judges and demeans a person (“The Host”). Everyone has an inner critic – it is part of the human condition. How we deal with the inner critic, however, is an invaluable skill we must all acquire.

Imagine you are sitting in a room and preparing for a very important presentation, and an individual barges into the room and says “you are going to fall flat on your face at that presentation you have this morning. Everyone is going to laugh at you”. What would you say? I would probably tell them that unless they had invented the first time-travelling machine and used it to pop into the future, attend my presentation, take notes, and then popped back to criticise me from an informed position, they would be well minded keeping their ill-informed opinion to themselves. But I wouldn’t – and definitely haven’t – said that to myself.

The sad truth is that at some point during their lifetime, most people will listen blindly to their inner critic and take its opinion to be the absolute truth. This is irrespective of the inner critic’s words being more likely to be a manifestation of fear and even on some level a mechanism used to protect The Host from a perceived pain of failing or some other negative consequence of taking a particular course of action. Moreover, when the inner critic infiltrates the workplace, it can bring with it a number of harmful consequences: low morale, toxicity, fear and  a dip in performances to name but a few. So how can we learn to deal efficiently with mental self-harming?

Learning to work with oneself

Some studies have shown that ways to quieten the inner critic include meditation, other spiritual practices and even befriending your inner critic. In my humble opinion the first step must be to acknowledge its existence and to distinguish its thoughts from an absolute truth.

I came across an ancient parable about several blind men and an elephant. It tells the story of a group of blind men who are each stationed at and touch a different part of an elephant’s body. This causes them to visualise different impressions of what an elephant is. The person standing at the elephant’s leg describes the elephant as being like a tree. The person at the elephant’s tail likens an elephant to a rope, the one touching the ear perceives the elephant to be like a fan (and so on).

This parable encourages us to remember that there can be multiple perspectives on a single matter. One part of an elephant in isolation does not accurately describe what an elephant is and if we apply this principle to our inner critic, its perspective is only one part of the whole picture.

Why should we carry this knowledge with us?

Empirical evidence demonstrates that adults display a negativity bias. We learn from and use negative information far more than positive information. If you combine this with a loud and accomplished inner self critic, the result could be the very real possibility of acute mental self-harming.

If you have a loud and bolshy inner critic, practice acknowledging it. You can do this by hearing it and then introducing at least one other perspective that offers a different view to the inner critic.

How does this apply to business thinking?

As a business, we believe in empowering our clients and our teams with the tools that help keep businesses moving. For our teams, that includes facilitating conversations about mental health within the workplace through sharing resources, Mental Health First Aiders in all our offices and monthly virtual sessions where we can get together for a cuppa and chat in a more informal setting.

For our clients, we do this through helping to promote financial wellness via the right funding solution for their business and additional support through our Relationship Managers but also thought-provoking blogs such as this one, and a collection of webinars designed to share helpful tips and resources for Introducers and business owners and their teams.

As the funding partner of choice, we are guided by our three brand values: Enterprise, Brilliance and Decency. Through them, we ensure that we treat each person within every business we work with with respect and without the use of financial jargon because we recognise that at the root of a positive lender is a positive mind set.

By promoting a safer space to do business in, we believe we can reduce bias and exclusion which in turn enables every Introducer, business owner and employee to  benefit from our inclusive approach.

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