Dealing with the mean girl in your head.

I have a few Important questions.

Have you ever found yourself hesitating or not speaking up at work because you fear you won’t be taken seriously or maybe even criticized?

Are you sometimes scared to death that one of these days a colleague is going to stand up in a meeting and shout, “I knew it! You really are incompetent!”

Do you resist connecting more deeply with people by sharing your story and owning your truth?

Is there a creative pursuit or career change that you’ve been longing to explore, but there’s a voice inside your head telling you that you don’t have what it takes or that people will laugh at you?

The Voice of No Reason

What you’re hearing is the voice of your inner critic. It's that persistent, pesky and irrational chatter of self-doubt that keeps brilliant ideas unshared, dreams unrealized, businesses un-started, talents unused, and important questions unasked.

It's also the conniving culprit behind those unintentional, but often really unkind, thoughts aimed at others who have had the courage to take the leap, go for the promotion, give the speech, push the envelope, or write the book we always wanted to write.

It’s that voice that says, “If you don’t try, you can’t fail. You don’t have what it takes to pull it off anyway.” And the same one who sometimes whispers, "Who does she think she is?"  

The Confidence Crisis

All women struggle with self-doubt in one way or another, although it shows up differently for each of us. For some women, it's most vocal around appearance or body image. For others, it speaks loudly in the professional context, rearing its head as “impostor syndrome.” Many women hear it piercingly around perceived inadequacies as a parent or partner.

This pervasive self-doubt rarely has anything to do with reality, actual ability or accomplishments. Yet, it plagues all of us, including many of the successful, high-achieving women we admire as being exceptionally self-confident.

As it turns out, this confidence deficiency is predominantly a female issue. According to authors Russ Harris and Stephen Hayes, the issue isn’t merely an annoyance, but instead a “particular crisis for women.”

While men are walking around saying “I’m awesome,” women are repeatedly saying, “I’m not good enough.” In their book, The Confidence Gap, the authors argue that this prevalence of self-doubt helps to explain why women continue to under-earn compared to men and why there remains a deficit of women leaders in so many organizations.

Does Any of this Sound Familiar?

The following list offers nine possibilities of how your inner critic may be showing up in your life, along with examples of things she might say.

Articulates a harsh or cruel judgment you would NEVER say to a colleague, friend or loved one: “You are so stupid! I honestly can’t believe that actually came out of your mouth.”

Echoes the voice of a negative, unsupportive or toxic person from your past or present — authority figure, boss, partner, teacher, parent or sibling: “Art? That’s an interesting hobby to have, but there’s no way you’ll ever make a living doing that.”

Makes definitive pronouncements, rather than presenting reasonable alternatives: “Are you serious? That idea will never fly in a million years.”

Aims to hit you where it will hurt the most: “A better mother would’ve done that differently.” Or, “Nobody will ever take you seriously as a writer.”

Attempts to diminish or discount your qualifications, credentials or experiences: “They probably wouldn’t even consider you for that position…maybe after you finish that degree or at least take a few more classes.”

Exhibits an anxious, repetitive and/or urgent tone: “Don’t just leave that message sitting there! You need to email her back right now or she’s going to think you’re a useless slacker.”

Questions your emotions, intellect or judgment, often at the same time: “What were you thinking agreeing to present at this conference? Pull yourself together! All of the other speakers are so calm, collected and confident.”

Hones in on physical attributes: “Are you seriously going to wear that dress without Spanx? And while you’re at it, you should likely wear long sleeves.”

Lashes out at the success of others: “Who does she think she is?”

Quieting the Critic

The encouraging news is that it’s reasonably simple to begin working with your inner critic as you heighten your awareness of its presence. While this nagging and unhelpful voice will never be completely silenced, it can be managed and muted, and the negative impacts in your life can be lessened.

The most important step is learning to recognize what your inner critic sounds like and  consciously acknowledging irrational self-doubt for what it truly is.

Once we are able to differentiate and diffuse the voice of our inner critic, we take away its power and can reclaim our own. In doing so, we set ourselves free to achieve our biggest goals, live and lead with more joy, and make the unique contributions in the world we are each meant to make.