More on the Inner Critic–and Saboteurs


I was at a leadership training when one of the stellar women of the group shared a delightfully wicked story she had written. It was about slaying the saboteurs, all those inner figures that hold us back, criticize us, demean us.  She wrote something like–slay the naysayer, strangle the perfectionist, take a machete to the chicken, asphyxiate the critic and whack the know-it-all to bits.  Ahhh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get rid of those inhibiting, diminishing, killjoys!

In a previous post I wrote about identifying stowaways, those voices that aren’t really you, but belonged to others and now masquerade as you: parents, teachers, older siblings, coaches, etc. that snuck in and were so familiar they feel like a part of the self.

Some of the saboteurs I’m going to address are different, and for some, it’s just another angle on the same one.

Early in life we adapted strategies like:

  • Be vigilant and watch your parents mood so you know how to behave.
  • Keep your mouth shut so you don’t aggravate the big people.
  • Don’t show off.
  • Don’t try to appear smarter, funnier, prettier than your sister.
  • Always think of the other person first.
  • Be helpful so you will be loved.
  • Hide angry feelings.
  • Always stand up for yourself.
  • Never stand up for yourself


All these strategies that organize us came into being for good reason–survival.  Nothing is superfluous, unnecessary, or irrelevant. These inner critics, saboteurs, or gremlins evolved, were brilliant solutions in the treacherous world of childhood. Each of us grew up in a family situation that was our world.  The amazing and resourceful mind that each of us had as a child figured out strategies for being loved, remaining safe, and forging an identity and sense of self.  We did what we had to.

Later in life, we go out into the world with these survival strategies in place.  However–the world isn’t like the family we grew up in.  A much wider range of behaviors is acceptable, but unfortunately these early survival strategies don’t depart easily.

Often we learn to override them behaviorally by applying some extra effort. That can work instance by instance but overriding the saboteur doesn’t eliminate it.

To transform, it’s necessary to identify them as having helped you survive and THANK them for the excellent job they did.  Appreciate how brilliant they were in keeping you safe and gently let them know that the world isn’t exactly like it was in childhood, and you are now stronger, smarter, and more able to handle complex situations. These strategies are always built on some natural strength or gift.  Figure out what that was and decide how you are going to use that beautiful gift that belongs to you–now–differently.

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