Coaching Yourself

by Melanie Greene

Mastering your inner critic

This could almost be a topic in itself (see Want to know more? for more sources of information), but here are a few techniques that you might find useful in mastering your inner critic and engaging your more rational and adult self:

It is not the world that makes you unhappy, or the way people are in the world. It’s how you process the people and events of the world.

Dr Wayne W Dyer
  • Listen to your whole self rather than just your inner critic
  • Appreciate rather than undermine yourself
  • Visualise your success.

If your inner critic bullies you, emphasising your weaknesses, down-playing your strengths and successes and generally making you feel miserable, this will make it hard for you to effectively coach yourself. However, there are ways of countering your inner critic, one of which is to listen to all the different parts of yourself.

The TA model – listening to your whole self

One model that is often used to help people understand how they interact with others is called Transactional Analysis or TA for short. You can also use this model to conduct a dialogue with your inner critic and engage other parts of yourself to combat the critical messages. (See also the topic on Transactional Analysis.)

TA says that we have learned ways of communicating and reacting to events and so we often end up habitually responding in a particular way. But once we understand this, we can start to choose which mode it would be helpful to be in and to respond from. Rather than just letting the inner critic take over, we can choose to listen to other parts of ourselves to get a more realistic assessment of the situation and ourselves.

TA says that there are three modes that we learn to communicate from...

Parent mode This can be either:
  • Nurturing, caring or rescuing
  • Controlling, critical, overpowering and/or disempowering.
Adult mode This is always:
  • Assertive, clearly communicating wants, needs and feelings
  • Does not play games; aims for a win-win situation
  • Listens to what the other person is saying
  • Respects their own and other people’s rights
  • Manages their emotions and remains rational and calm
  • Takes responsibility for decisions, actions taken and mistakes.
Child mode This can be either:
  • Fun loving, happy , carefree, creative, energetic and enthusiastic
  • Adaptive, going along with social norms, customs and so on
  • Scared, fearful, anxious, rebellious, wilful, obstinate, sulky or manipulative.

These are labels for learned ways of behaving. They are not the same as physically being a parent, an adult or a child. We all have the capacity to behave from a parent, adult or child mode, and each of these has its time and place. We don’t have to be a parent to have an internal parent within us. Also, though we might be adults, we do not always behave in an adult manner, as described in this model; in fact, we can often fall into the child mode.

Parent mode

The parent mode is within all of us, regardless of whether we are actually parents. It contains behaviours that we witnessed as a child in the grown ups around us: our parents, teachers and other significant people. We thought that was how a grown up always acted, when what we often witnessed was parental behaviour (in other words, how adults behave with children, not with adults), either nurturing or controlling.

In the case of the inner critic, this critical ‘parent’ may not necessarily reflect memories of your own parents, but perhaps a teacher who was particularly demeaning and destructive, an overpowering elder sibling or some other adult who destroyed your budding self confidence, was over-critical instead of encouraging or who humiliated you publicly.

People with a strong inner critic often do not know how to nurture themselves or be the nurturing parent, they are more likely to just criticise themselves.

Child mode

As for the child mode, even though we are adults we still have the child inside us. In terms of the fun, creative child that is just as well, as this is where our sense of fun and humour comes from. Life would be very dry and boring without it.

The adaptive child also serves a purpose: society is partly kept together because we all go along with various social norms, without which there would probably be anarchy. However, someone who has a very strong adaptive child within them might become passive in inappropriate situations, unable to speak up for themselves or question things. You will sometimes you see this when a team member falls into adaptive child mode during an appraisal, going along with everything that is said, but never seeming to be fully engaged. Most managers would prefer to hold discussions about assessments, rather than find themselves faced with an adaptive child. In the former situation, the individual might not agree, but at least they are engaged with the process and, if handled well, usually get more from it.

The scared, fearful, anxious, rebellious, wilful, obstinate, sulky or manipulative child is left over from our own childhood and our habitual ways of behaving as a child. You will find that you have a leaning towards one or other of type of child. Which ones do you tend to get hooked into?

Adult mode

You might be forgiven for thinking that we are adults and therefore always behave from our adult mode. However, once you look at the TA descriptions, you will see that this is not always true, especially when problems occur or we are in conflict with others, or with other parts of ourselves. It is then that we often slip into either a parent or child mode.


When your inner critic kicks in, which child mode do you think you most often fall into?

What situations trigger this in you?

Communicating with your internal parent, adult and child

We all have within us an internal parent, adult and child and, as in any family, some get their views heard more easily than others. For those of us with an inner critic, it is usually this voice that is the loudest and gets heard. This is a problem when you are attempting to coach and debrief yourself and all you are aware of is your inner critic and, perhaps, your fearful child. However, there is a process that you can use to listen to all of the different parts. It will help you to sort out what is really going on for you in a situation and decide what you need to focus on.