Sunday, January 17, 2010

Coaching Lessons: "How to Manage Your Inner Critic"

Most of us have enough trouble managing ourselves. For some of us the task is complicated by the need to manage our inner critics.

So writes Susan David in her article: "How to Manage Your Inner Critic." She does not offer advice on how to silence or suppress your inner critic. As she says, trying to suppress your inner critic empowers it, and makes it far more difficult to manage. Link here.

Let's begin with some background. Cognitive psychologist Aaron Beck first identified the inner critic as a major depressant. (If we have antidepressants, we should also be able to identify depressants.)

Beck's thesis was that self-deprecatory thoughts were the root cause of depression. I take it that these thoughts are being uttered by your inner critic.

In founding cognitive therapy, Beck invented a series of mental exercises to help people manage their inner critics.

Having trained as a psychoanalyst Beck learned that his training left him ill-equipped to deal with depression. Thus he was impelled to create a radically different treatment, one that has more in common with coaching than with psychoanalytically-oriented insight-directed therapy.

As Susan David reports, coaches encounter the inner critic when they work with clients who feel that they are impostors. These people do not believe that they deserve their success. They see themselves as frauds and are afraid that once they are found out they will lose everything.

Susan David follows the cognitive approach and says that it is best to begin managing this critic by asking whether its judgment has any validity.

Similarly, cognitive treatment of depression involves writing down information that would confirm the inner critic's judgment and then, writing down facts that would refute the same judgment.

Cognitive therapy aims at balanced judgment. It does not indulge in mindless puffery and self-esteem building exercises.

Feeling like an impostor is not quite the same as feeling that you are worthless. Clearly, the self-deprecating judgments of the depressed person's inner critic tend toward self-annihilation and nothingness.

The impostor knows that he does possess some successes; he simply does not feel that they are really his. He does not feel that he owns them.

At times, he is right. If someone has inherited a fortune or been given a job only because of family ties he might easily feel that he has not earned what he has.

How can he overcome this sense of being an impostor? One way is to work harder. Only hard work and real achievements will overcome the feeling of being an impostor.

Clearly, I am not saying that the inner critic is a Freudian superego that is taxing you with guilt. And I am not saying that when you do not feel you have earned what you have you should give it away, in a grand gesture of penance.

The inner critic is not punishing you for your sins. It is telling you that you need to close the gap between your achievements and your possessions.

This applies well to people who earn too much money too soon for dubious achievements. Celebrities and Hollywood actors, to say nothing of rock stars and even some athletes... can get very rich very young for doing very little.

Often enough they feel like impostors. They gain access to parties and private events where they feel completely out of place. They can feel like they belong by spending money. Yet, they are really wasting money that they do not feel is really theirs.

Convinced that someone is soon going to take it all away from them, they feel compelled to spend it as quickly as possible.

Such people rarely have the skills needed to manage money. They often have to to grant an advisor the power to control their finances.

Then there are people who are living beyond their means, who have borrowed their way into a lifestyle that they cannot afford and who know that one day they will inevitably lose it all. Once their credit dries up they will lose the megamansion and be forced to live in a trailer.

It may well be that they feel they are impostors. Mostly because they are. And they are, even if they have garnered some successes along the way. Correcting this perception will require them to reorganize their lives radically.

On a larger cultural scale,the American psyche is suffering at this moment from the suspicion that it has been living a lie, an imposture.

Given the financial crisis, and given the fact that our government is living way beyond its means, to the point where no one has any notion of how it is going to pay back its debt, it is reasonable to say that as America makes its way through what many observers are calling another economic Depression it is discovering that some large part of its recent success has been an imposture.

1 comment:

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