How Your Inner Critic Blocks You from Your Purpose


Figuring out our purpose is one of the chief desires of women in their 40s navigating their Midlife Muck.

We’ve either never found our purpose, or what was once our purpose is no longer serving us. But, as we hit our 40s, we feel a deepening need to discover more meaning in our lives.

It can be challenging to attempt to figure this out at this stage in life.  In many ways, it feels like starting over (which isn’t necessarily the case!).

But, in the quest to answer those deep questions that keep us up at night (“Why am I here?”, “What am I leaving behind?”, “What can I do to feel I’m contributing more to life?”) we typically seek something new.

For many, that quest leads to fear, overwhelm, and confusion.  We feel stuck, and we don’t know how to get past this to find our purpose and start living it.

What we don’t realize is that in many cases, there’s something within us sabotaging our efforts to find the answers to those questions and uncover our purpose:  our Inner Critic.

These little internal protectors know our weak spots and our sensitivities, and they attack those areas when they feel we might ignore their “wisdom” and stray off our safe routines.

When we’re stuck in the Midlife Muck, our Inner Critics have become extremely efficient and effective.  We’re craving more fulfillment, more meaningful connections with others, and to let our hair down and explore our adventurous side.

We don’t see many options for these desires on our current path, so by default, that means we need to change some things in our life.

But, just the idea of “change” can send our Inner Critics into a tizzy!  They sense something different is on the horizon, and they fear the worst (failure, humiliation, pain, etc.). So, they suit up and go into battle to prevent us from doing anything outside of our routine.

Ways our Inner Critic Prevents Us from Discovering Our Purpose

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what your Inner Critic is telling you because we each have our own unique blend of fears, concerns, and doubts from which our Inner Critics feed.

But, in general, when we’re feeling unfulfilled and bored with our lives, we begin to seek out something more exciting.

This could mean a new career, a move across the country, a side business, a new relationship, travel, etc.

Regardless of how it plays out, exploring options to provide more meaning in our lives also puts us in the crosshairs of vulnerability.  Anytime something (or someone) means a great deal to us, we up the level of engagement with our emotions and feelings.  We dial up the opportunity for greater disappointment or hurt.

So, this naturally scares our Inner Critics because they fear the worst case scenario - getting hurt, disappointed, humiliated, or falling flat on our faces.

Since their sole mission is to protect us from experiencing any of that, they will pull out all stops to prevent us from discovering our calling and pursuing it.

Common tactics our Inner Critics use but aren’t limited to, include:

  • Making you feel overwhelmed - The idea of figuring out your deeper meaning, true calling, or purpose feels utterly overwhelming.  You can’t see any options because it’s all so foggy and confusing.

  • Lying to you - Telling you that you’re not qualified to do what you desire and telling you it’s too late to gain the skills you think you need

  • Telling more lies - Implying that you’re not good enough (i.e., “who am I to do xyz?”) for a better life, or happiness, or fulfillment, or whatever it is you crave

  • Distracting you - Attacking you in other areas that seem unrelated to uncovering your purpose to distract you (“You need to lose more weight,” “You’re not spending enough time with your family,” “What kind of mother/wife are you?”)

  • Making you doubt yourself -  Making you doubt your desires or choices (“Do you really want that?”)

  • Throwing you off-course -  Encouraging you to skip resting or recuperating (“You’ve worked so hard today, take a night off from your side project/research/etc. and just binge Netflix - you deserve it!)

Our Inner Critics are masterful at getting what they want, and up until now, they’ve likely won and kept you exactly where they want you - safe and small.  But, this is no longer working for you, so it’s time to take back control and make the right decisions for your life (even if they feel a little scary!).

How to tame the Inner Critic’s Fears

The Inner Critic is like a small child, and it wants to be heard.  

If you ignore a toddler that’s trying to get your attention, what happens?  They get louder, more insistent, and eventually angry at being ignored.  They’ll make sure you finally see them and give them the attention they desire.  

Our Inner Critics aren’t much different from a toddler desperate for attention.

So, the goal isn’t to silence or ignore them.  The objective is to hear what they have to say, acknowledge them, but not let that stop you from what you need to do to change what’s not working.

In the coaching world, we call this “gremlin work” because we refer to our Inner Critic as gremlins.  Gremlin work can be very deep work that can be very transformative.

When you uncover an Inner Critic or gremlin, you have to shine a light on that specific gremlin (they don’t like this since they typically work undercover), figure out why they’re afraid of the changes you desire, then partner with the gremlin so it knows it’s safe and understands it’s new job.

With that in mind, here are five ways to work with your Inner Critic so you can take the steps you need to discover your calling and unlock your full potential for your life.

#1  |  Acknowledge the Inner Critic

First and foremost, you have to recognize the voice you hear in your head as the Inner Critic.  You have to understand it’s part of you, but not you.  This voice is the voice of your protector, but you don’t have to buy-in to what it’s telling you.

#2  |  Disengage from the Inner Critic

Most folks are so used to the messages their Inner Critic tell them that they fail to see those voices are only a part of them.  A critical part of dealing with Inner Critics is to separate yourself from the identity of the Critic.  You have to see them as another “person” to establish a separation between you and the Critic. 

#3  |  Give the Inner Critic a Persona

Taking it a step further, to disengage from the Inner Critic, it helps to figure out who is that Inner Critic.  When you can see who that energy represents it cracks the bond between you and the Inner Critic.  You may discover the Inner Critic bears a striking resemblance to the mean girl from high school, your over-protective mother, or the judgmental and gossipy neighbor.  

They may not be anyone you know or have known, but you can likely create their persona based on their “personality.”  By giving them a face, a name, and an identity, you will start to see how they’re operating and how much they are not a part of you.  (Friendly tip:  when giving them names and personas, don’t use real people in your life as the names or personalities of your Inner Critics!)

#4  |  Keep an Inner Critic Journal

As you start to notice the Inner Critic voices more as you separate yourself from them, keep a journal of what they’re telling you. Look for trends in their messages, patterns in when they pop up, etc.  You can also take it a step further and write contradictory evidence to support how their statements aren’t true.  Inner critics tend to settle down when we provide evidence to the contrary of what they believe.

#5  |  Make it a Game

Inner Critics quiet down when we prove their fears are unfounded.  So, turn your fears, doubts, etc. into a game and challenge what the Inner Critic is telling you.  If they say, you will make a fool of yourself if you take a hip-hop dance class, sign up for the class and prove it wrong! Not only will it quiet their chatter, but you’ll also be taking steps towards your desires!  Win-win!

Final Thoughts

The Inner Critic - whether friendly or mean - has one objective:  to pull you back into your familiar routine, keep you tied to your old identity, and prevent you from achieving what you desire.

When you’re able to recognize your Inner Critics, personify them to help separate them from you, and take strides to hear them, but not listen to them, you’ll slide back into the driver’s seat of your life.  You’ll begin making choices that get you closer to your deeper desires and ultimately, unstuck.

By taming the Inner Critic voices that are trying to prevent you from uncovering your purpose, you will open your world to new opportunities, fresh perspectives, and an enriched experience of your daily life.