Sunday, March 10, 2013

Inner Critic Interrogation Strategies

Just because you've made mistakes doesn't mean...
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by Debra Payne, PhD

"We have ways of making you talk!" - You, as you interrogate those mean little inner critics of yours.

You know that awful, scathing criticism that you hear when you are working on something you deem important?

Attribute that to your inner critic, or perhaps to the entire committee of critics you have living in your head.

Anne Lamott has suggested shrinking your inner critics down to the size of someone small enough to be dropped into a mason jar (p. 27). That's such a great image!

I'll add this: Once they are shrunken down to mason jar size and trapped inside those smooth, glass walls, shine a very bright light on those critics and ask them a few powerful questions.

This is a mason jar interrogation: Once your critics are small enough to be trapped inside mason jars, jumping up and down angrily and demanding you let them out of there, politely ask them a few powerful questions.

I've provided an Interrogation script below in case you get what is commonly known as "Rookie Interrogator Stage Fright." You may eventually want to modify or add to the script, which I've outlined and discussed in the text below.

For the purposes of this essay, I've used the singular form "critic" instead of the plural form. One mason jar interrogation is enough for now. You can manage the rest of the critics later.

Question One: What's your name?

Naming your critic helps. As I've suggested above, you likely have more than one inner critic. Sometimes there is an entire committee in your head, taking up all sorts of time, space, and energy that could be used for better stuff.

There's usually a critic-in-chief, however. Mine is named Millicent. She's a spiteful, tidy old woman who wears interesting sweaters and likes to criticize me if I try to do anything even remotely creative. "Millicent, meet the world! World, meet Millicent!"

There. It's public now. I feel so relieved! I can see Millicent slithering away out of my consciousness! Now it's your turn! Who's your critic-in-chief? What's her name?

Question Two: What is your purpose here?

This is a trick question. Beyond protecting your ego from being put into question by writing something incredibly stupid and putting it out into the world to then risk the subsequently horrible possibility of painful and public humiliation, there usually isn't a reason.

Ask anyway. If you get a glib and hurtful answer such as "To prevent you from embarrassing yourself, you slobbering fool!" then calmly continue inquiry until the answers get a little less arrogant and controlling.

"And just what does embarrassing myself look like?" you may retort to the critic. Continue with questions until the critic throws her hands up and walks around in tight little circles inside the mason jar. This is her symbolic "I give up" gesture, which will be a victory for you, but kind of sad for her.

Unpack your inner critic's perception of exactly what the issue may be. It usually will not take long to see that unspoken assumptions given to you by inner critics usually contain very little logic and just a whole lot of hoo-hah. There'll be fluff there. Notice it, pick it up, and throw it away.

Question Three: How are you helping me?

Usually, your inner critic's answer to this question is surprise, followed by an empty stare. Why would someone ask a question of her neurosis, after all? Shouldn't the neurosis be left in peace so it can do its dirty work and prevent what's important from even being considered?

It also could be that you really don't want to do the task you have set out to do. Maybe you have set a goal that was outlined to you by others. In this case, help may come in the form of making you stop all that nonsense.

Authenticity wins the day, and if your goal is met with an inordinate amount of resistance, you may want to consider whether or not the goal is actually yours.

The short answer to "How are you helping me?" will very likely be this: "Um, I'm not helping you. I have no intention of helping you. Ever."


Interrogating your inner critics can help you move forward and construct the life you were meant to lead. Your persistent little inner critics must be reduced to comical, miniature characters and then worn down by powerful questioning.

These critics are harping away at your creativity, your productivity, and your happiness. Make them talk! Eventually, they will either conform to your desires or they will slink away and attach themselves to some other unsuspecting brain.

Meanwhile, here's to a joyful, confident existence with no need for anymore mason jars except maybe if they contain pickles or homemade Strawberry jam.

Resource: Lamott, Anne, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, 1994 Pantheon Books

Debra Payne, PhD is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) and a proud member of the International Coaching Federation. She is also the President/CEO/Big Cheese of her company, Better Than Success.

She specializes in helping people in transition. Her mission is to assist others in taking the lid off anything that is preventing them from pursuing bold, authentic dreams. Please like Deb's page at Follow her tweets @drdebpayne. And finally, kiss your self-limiting beliefs goodbye at

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