It was really hard to decide which session to go to in this time block. I ended up choosing Mary’s session because I struggle with an inner critic. You may not know it by looking at me but I am very critical of myself. this session was excellent – we sat in a circle and there was no PowerPoint. It was a guided reflective activity. At various points we shred some reflective thoughts, but I am not noting them below.

What do you deal with the inner voice that tells you “I suck?” Mary asked us what would happen if instead of saying to yourself that you are doing badly you tell yourself that you hear a voice saying you are not doing well. That shift is a meaningful one.

Building our Critic

We worked through a worksheet. Honestly in this hour I didn’t quite get through it all. Finishing a definition of this critic may be helpful for when I am in future situations when the critic comes out.

Things an inner critic may say (general examples – not anyone specific):

  • Everyone will know
  • You need a PhD
  • You should feel bad about that
  • You are responsible for that
  • Someone is doing better than you
  • You should be doing even more / better
  • You suck
  • That is a horrible failure

Who or what does your inner critic sound like? It could take on various characteristics. Who does it sound like?

What are the adjectives? Pick five words that describe the personality.

Create a character – give them physical attributes like gender, age, characteristics.

Give them a name so you can actually address them and think of them as a person. It could be a fun name or a proper name.

It might help to picture yourself in front of this person and trying to make them as real as you possibly can.


When you can recognize and attribute the voice to someone it helps to see them as separate from yourself. We often feel judged when it is self-imposed. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own stuff they don’t actually care as much as you think they do. We are often our worst critics.

Catastrophizing is a defense mechanism. Stay curious about what this critic says. Ask yourself if the thought is true? How can you be sure it is true? Most of the time it is not true.

Tools for dealing with the Critic

Tips that may help:

  • Change the language to separate the critic from self.
  • Look at fear as a motivation.
  • Look for humour.
  • Compare your values with the critic. Do your values match? If you do not share the values you can dismiss criticisms.
  • Visualize yourself having empathy for the critic. Tell them you appreciate that the critic is worried but tell them that you have this. Positive self-talk.
  • Write down thoughts and lock them away.
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Everyone Seems to have an Inner Critic

Academia has a lot of external structures in place that promote inner critics. Working in this environment can slow down progress. Imposter syndrome is huge in Academia for women and minority groups. The culture is defined. Empathy and being vulnerable as humans can help to build a relationship with others and make progress. Can you get down to the real worries?

Being in a meeting is like playing a chess game sometimes. Being attacked in a meeting or an email can be challenging. Honesty is a great tool to use. Disarming honesty can help. Clarity is kindness (says Brunee Brown).


Dealing with critics is a complex, evolving, and challenging process. Viewing it as a functional piece can help us deal with it. Using the critic in a positive way helps us improve the long-term outcomes. It is true that the reason that my work is generally good is because I am constantly criticizing it.

The problem is when we internalize the negative thoughts, which could lead to burnout. Over the last year I have gotten better at not internalizing it, but I still feel like an imposter or inadequate in some spaces. I embrace failure as long as I learn something from it. I think that is what helped me shift my perspective. My inner critic is part of who I am that helps me produce quality work.

How can we help students deal with their inner critics?

How can we create more positive spaces for learning from critics and failure?


Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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