Whether you prefer to call it your inner critic, saboteur, gremlin, or something else, that pesky, negative voice that fills your head with criticism, doubt, and fear has some common characteristics. The voice tends to be automatic and persistent, like a broken record. It clouds your perception, decisions, and actions. It hampers your ambition and punishes you for even the smallest of mistakes. With such outlandish characteristics and devastating effects, why do we have inner critics? N euroscience offers answers. The amygdalae are the parts of the brain primarily involved with processing emotions and memories. There are two amygdalae, one in each hemisphere of the brain. Either amygdala can be stimulated by emotions or a perceived threat. As John Hopkins explains in a blog post, “The amygdalae regulate emotion and memory and are associated with the brain’s reward system, stress, and the ‘fight or flight’ response.” As some of the oldest parts of the brain, one of the amygdalae’s primary tasks is your survival. The amygdalae are also home to our inner critics—a whole committee of them. I know my inner critics can get quite chatty at times. In certain circumstances, one critic might take center stage over the others, but we all have more than one.
While juggling their committee of inner critics, female leaders often walk a tightrope. In our coaching sessions, my clients and I look for ways to ease this strenuous experience, but it’s challenging. Leaders of all genders are expected to show traits such as ambition, confidence, independence, competence, and decisiveness. However, according to research by Dr. Anyi Ma, an assistant professor at Tulane University, those characteristics can label a woman as bossy unless balanced with warmth and approachability. Similarly, a 2018 Harvard Business Review article by Wei Zheng, Ronit Kark, and Alyson Meister found that women must be both warm and nice in addition to competent and tough. Likewise, Susan Fleming, a senior lecturer at Cornell, says, “A female leader is supposed to be strong and authoritative, know her stuff, hold her ground and speak her mind, but while doing that, she is simultaneously also supposed to come off as sweet, supportive, nice, communal, kind and gentle.” What a tightrope! This precarious balancing act creates an environment in which inner critics can thrive. And trying to calm a committee of inner critics while walking a tightrope is no small feat.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish