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  • Writer's pictureAlex Bowman

How to deal with Overwhelm - Part 3

The power of our inner critics

In the first two parts of this article series, we looked at adjusting your priorities and spending time on the things that will impact your ability to deal with feeling overwhelmed.

It's all very well suggesting a path to follow, but giving ourselves permission to take the first step is a different story.

The word "story" is poignant because of the stories our inner critics tell us. Stories about how scary it will be, what a waste of time it will be, how we will fail or what others will think of us.

These voices will make us play a small game in life and make us believe they are the angel on our shoulders.

To a certain extent, our inner critics are trying to be helpful as they're trying to keep us safe. Nothing is more crushing to our ego than doing something uncomfortable; therefore, our ego tells us stories about why we shouldn't do things.

Rather than listen to their stories, we should get curious about them. Part of self-awareness is recognising where our limiting beliefs come from and then choosing whether or not to believe them.

Last year I did a course with a company called Positive Intelligence, and they explained that we have a mixture of 10 different inner critics or "saboteurs" in their language.

"Saboteurs are the voices in your head that generate stress and negative emotions in the way you handle work and life's challenges. They sabotage your potential for both happiness and performance. "

© Copyright Positive Intelligence

We will have a different mix of these saboteurs, some stronger than others. This depends on our upbringing, life experiences or even our natural strengths being overdone.

For example, one of my natural strengths is empathy, and it's no surprise I gravitated towards being a coach. However, when empathy is overdone, it can make us a "people pleaser", meaning we worry more about the opinions of others rather than doing the right thing for us.

I'm going to introduce you to the ten saboteurs and their characteristics. You will probably recognise some of them from your internal dialogue, so note them.

The Judge

This is the voice that finds faults in ourselves, others and our circumstances, and it's the cause of most of our anger, regret, shame, disappointment, guilt and anxiety.

The Judge will keep bringing up past mistakes or failures, focus on what's wrong with others, and insist we are in a bad situation.

The Judge justifies its existence by telling us stories like:

"Without me pushing you, you'll get lazy and complacent."

"Without me punishing you for mistakes, you won't learn from them and repeat them."

"Without me making you feel bad about the bad outcome, you won't do anything to change it."

I know that some of these sound familiar to you because The Judge is always the loudest inner critic in all of us.

The Avoider

This inner critic is found in people that always want to see the positive in an extreme way, to the point that they will avoid unpleasant tasks and conflict at all costs.

The fear of The Avoider stems from stories such as:

"If I deal with this now, I will hurt their feeling. I'd rather not."

"This is just too unpleasant. If I let it go, it will take care of itself.

"I'd rather give someone else their way than create a scene."

If we listen to The Avoider, we will say yes to things we don't want; we'll procrastinate about unpleasant tasks, and our relationships will be kept superficial through conflict avoidance.

The Controller

As the name suggests, this inner critic must control and take charge. The rationale of The Controller is:

"You are either in control or out of control."

"If I work hard enough, I can and should control the situation, so it goes my way."

"Others want and need me to take control, and I'm doing them a favour."

Although those with a robust Controller inner critic may get temporary results, it's usually at the cost of others feeling micro-managed. The Controller also causes anxiety as many things in work and life are uncontrollable.

The Hyper-Achiever

This saboteur needs consistent high performance and achievement to have self-respect. I see this often in leaders and managers struggling with work-life balance and becoming workaholics.

The inner dialogue that those with Hyper-Achievers will be familiar with sounds like this:

"I must be the best at what I do."

"If I can't be outstanding, I won't bother."

"Emotions get in the way of performance. Focus on thinking and action."

"I am worthy as long as I am successful and others think well of me."

I always get a lot of pushback from leaders and managers with strong Hyper-Achiever inner critics. They tell me they wouldn't have the work ethic and success without the Hyper-Achiever. We should embrace our natural behaviours and skills, but when they are overdone, the impact on ourselves and others become negative.

In the case of The Hyper-Achiever, peace and happiness are always fleeting as they are conditioned on the next success. They also lose touch with themselves and their relationships with others as they are so focused on achievement. I've spoken to many successful leaders who have all the success and money they could want, and they're still miserable because they can't silence the Hyper-Achiever, telling them they're STILL not good enough!

The Hyper-Rational

This inner critic has an intense and active mind with a strong need for analysis and evaluation. The types of thoughts that someone with a strong Hyper-Rational critic will be:

"My feelings are distracting and irrelevant."

"Needs and emotions of others are distracting from my project."

"Knowledge and competence are all that matter."

As you've probably guessed, people with a strong Hyper-Rational inner critic can get frustrated with others being emotional, be sceptical of others and ultimately end up lonely and misunderstood.

The Hyper-Vigilant

This inner critic is intensely anxious about all the dangers in a situation and thinks of all the ways it could go wrong. The fear of The Hyper-Vigilant is:

"If I plan for the worst, I will be prepared."

"If I make a mistake, I fear everyone will jump down my throat."

"I want to trust people, but I'm suspicious of their motives."

We can be duped into thinking The Hyper-Vigilant is trying to keep us safe. However, being vigilant all the time can leave us drained, untrusting and actively avoided by others.

The Pleaser

As the name suggests, people with a prominent Pleaser have an intense need to be liked by people and attempt to earn it by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering people.

The type of inner dialogue you can expect from The Pleaser is:

"Putting others first is selfless. My needs are selfish!"

"I need to make them like me."

"It bothers me when people don't notice or care about what I have done for them. They can be selfish and ungrateful."

The Pleaser can often make us come across as "needy", which can drive people away. It can sabotage taking care of our own emotional, physical, or financial needs. It can also lead to burnout and resentment that others don't give back as much.

The Restless

People with a strong Restless inner critic constantly search for greater excitement in the next activity or constant busyness. They are rarely at peace or content with the current activity.

The stories The Restless tells us are:

"If you rest, you will be lazy and unproductive."

"This next thing has got to be more exciting."

"These negative feelings are horrible, and I must shift my attention to something exciting."

Although it may seem like a playful and fun-loving inner critic, underneath the surface of The Restless is an anxiety-based escape from being present and could be a strategy to escape from dealing with fears, anxieties and painful feelings. This can significantly impact our relationships, as moving on to the next activity is easier than facing uncomfortable conversations or making lasting connections.

The Stickler

This Inner critic demands perfectionism. The Stickler's need for order and organisation is taken WAY too far.

The language you'll hear The Stickler use is:

"Right is right, and wrong is wrong. I know the right way."

"If you can't do it perfectly, don't do it at all."

"Others too often have lax standards, and I hate mistakes."

People with a demanding Stickler can be irritable, tense, opinionated, and sarcastic. Highly critical of self and others but highly sensitive to criticism from others. They can work overtime to compensate for others' "sloppiness and laziness."

The Stickler will be a constant source of anxiety for those that listen to it. People with a strong Stickler will cause resentment, anxiety, self-doubt, and resignation in others, as they feel continually criticised and that their effort is never good enough.

The Victim

This inner critic is emotional and temperamental and will have you focus on painful internal feelings. As the name suggests, it will have us play the victim to gain attention.

The Victim will tell us stories like:

"Poor me. Terrible things always happen to me."

"Their life is better than my life."

"I wish someone would rescue me from this mess."

A person with a strong Victim will lose all their vitality and focus on self-pity. Although this is a cry for more attention, people will find the constant negativity draining and keep their distance.

So, that's a brief introduction to the ten inner critics. Probably one or two of them feel familiar, but how does this help us deal with overwhelm?

When stressed and overwhelmed, we resort to our most instinctive and reactive behaviours when we're under pressure. It's like being on autopilot, and this is where our strongest inner critics take advantage.

Let me give you a personal example. My top 2 scoring inner critics are The Victim and The Hyper-Achiever. When I'm overwhelmed, it's usually because I've listened to my Hyper-Achiever and taken on too much. My Victim will want me to tell everyone how sorry they should feel for me that I'm so overworked. It's a painful combo!

Once I became aware of these two inner critics, I could understand their character traits and recognise when they hijacked me. Self-awareness is about identifying and understanding our behaviour and choosing if it's how we wish to respond.

Over time, I labelled every time these two inner critics showed up at work and home, and this acted as a break in the chain. Rather than automatically being The Victim or The Hyper-Achiever, I would label them and then choose how I wished to move forward.

Let's say you had a strong Avoider. Recognising this will help you identify when they are sabotaging you with procrastination. Delaying uncomfortable work or situations creates overwhelm because they're left to fester, producing a lot of anxiety.

You may have a strong Stickler and work long hours because the work is never done. Recognising that it's the Sticker with the gun to your head and not your manager puts you back in the driving seat.

Now I appreciate this sounds simple, and it's not. Self-awareness and behaviour change takes time, effort and holding yourself to account...but it's worth it!

100% of the leaders and managers I work with dealing with burnout, imposter syndrome, confidence crisis, overwhelm or communication issues are hijacked by some extreme inner critics. The impact of recognising our internal dialogue on how we act and perceive our situation is massive. It can fundamentally change our lives and move us towards freedom, authenticity and happiness.

This a bold statement, but the results speak for themselves.

For now, pick the two strongest inner critics and get used to labelling when they are hijacking you. You don't need to do anything else. If you feel sorry for yourself, just label that "The Victim" is hijacking you.

You can take a free online assessment to find your strongest inner critics. Please DM me, and I'll send you a link.

If you want to know more about me, my coaching process and experience coaching with me, I offer a free 1-hour coaching session to those curious about leading a better life. Please click this link to book the free session, or click here to learn more about me.

Here's to your journey.


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