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Stop Sabotaging Yourself

How to deal with your inner critic

We all have it--that nagging inner voice that tells us that we’re not “good enough,” that we “can’t do it.” The voice of the Inner Critic can ambush and sabotage us, keeping us from reaching for our dreams.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that we each have two compelling needs:

  • one toward becoming more of who we are: growth, aspiration, and self-actualization.
  • another toward safety and security (Arloski, 2014,pp. 33-34;  Maslow, 1962, pp. 46-47).

When we reach out for an exciting new goal, our need for safety and security gets triggered. A part of us wants to move forward while another part puts on the brakes.

Beneath what feels like self-sabotage, the Inner Critic is trying to keep us safe, to protect us from being hurt, save us from disappointment and failure. By criticizing and scaring us, saying “You can’t do this. You’re not good enough,” it tries to save us from danger by keeping us where we are.

Sometimes our families and friends take on this role. Seeing change as a threat, they build roadblocks between us and our dreams, proclaiming fearful fantasies that freeze us in our tracks. But most insidious is the inner critic, the fearful voice inside.

How can we deal with this inner obstructionist?

Here are some strategies I use with my clients and myself:

  1. First, recognize the Inner Critic
  2. Don’t try to reason with it. The Inner Critic is irrational. As psychotherapist Rick Carson advises,   “grappling with your gremlin” only keeps you stuck (2003, p. 88).
  3. Instead, identify it. What does your Inner Critic look like and sound like? My inner critic looks like a Halloween witch and hisses “You’re a fraud,” “You don’t know what you’re doing,” “You’re not good enough,” “You’re bound to fail,” “You’re no good,” “You’re going to be punished.”
  4. Identifying the Inner Critic, seeing it as a comic book character, takes away its power to scare us. However, if facing it brings up unresolved emotions or childhood trauma, you may need to work through these feelings with a therapist.
  5. The next step is to deal with it the Inner Critic. Some people visualize putting it in another room,  locking it in the garage,  or tossing it into the trash can—whatever it takes to get it out of the way.

Then when your mind is clear, take a deep breath and think of one small step you can take in the direction of your dreams.


Arloski, Michael. (2014). Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change. Duluth, MN: Whole Person Associates.

Carson, Rick. (2003). Taming Your Gremlin. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Maslow, Abraham. (1962). Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

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