For some people it appears occasionally, while for others it's a constant - and dictatorial - companion. It's grouchy, sceptical, always knows better and is an eternal critic.
The inner voice is not to be confused with instinct nor with a healthy dose of self-criticism. The inner voice saps your courage, is fastidious and undifferentiated - and unfortunately it's a part of your being. It makes things particularly bad when it comes to our working lives but with a bit of effort you can learn how to live with it.
"The inner critic is part of our personalities. It has the psyche of a small child who has big fears and it forms very early in our lives," says psychologist and life coach Tom Diesbrock. It's not a constructive voice. It's on the look-out for risk and it pays particular attention to what others might be saying and thinking. "It was created by experience and socialisation," explains Diesbrock.
Typical statements by the inner voice are: "You won't succeed. You can't do it. People don't do things like that." And when something goes wrong it switches to the following: "I told you so."
"Naturally there may be some truth to those doubts," says Svenja Hofert, a psychologist and career advisor. But she points out that it's wrong to listen to this voice without questioning it. A better strategy, she believes, is to think about it and ask yourself if there really is something to the criticism after all. "An inner critical voice can provide corrective advice in many cases," she says. The precondition is that the inner voice does not get the upper hand in your life.
Diesbrock has given his inner voice a name in order to learn how best to deal with it. He calls his voice Hermann. "It's a method of providing the voice with a face and to view it as a sparring partner. The important thing is that you take the reins in your hand and not Hermann," he says. Nevertheless, you must take your inner voice seriously because it should not be underestimated.
Listening to your instincts
"You can view him as a serious-minded business partner whose opinion you ask for occasionally," advises Hofert. Giving your voice a name helps in this regard. Try imagining sitting beside it on a chair. "Explain your point of view and then switch chairs and express the view of your inner critic."
Britta Schaefer advises drawing up the classical pro-and-contra list. "If you sit down and consider what your strengths are and write them out as a list you will be surprised how many you have," she says. That's a good thing to do ahead of a job interview or an official engagement.
Diesbrock has what he calls the "Hermann Diary." "You should write down in detail what your Hermann has said and criticised," he says. That can be a painful process but it's an excellent method of teaching you to take yourself seriously. "It's like playing at being a detective: you find out what you really think about yourself."
Britta Schaefer advises learning to accept your inner voice. At the same time it should not be allowed to become too strong. "Walt Disney once said that every project must have a dreamer or visionary working on it along with an achiever and a critic. Only then will the project succeed," she says. That's also how your own personality functions in different situations.
You will never be able to completely silence your inner voice. "It is and will always be a part of you. But it will never be your best friend," says Diesbrock. You should learn to deal with it better because, mentally speaking, it's like a small child. "Basically the inner voice is seeking undisturbed security, without any change or risk." It's your job to gently teach it when it's time to take one or two gambles.
(EurekAlert, March 2012)
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