Transforming Self Judgment: Coaching Clients Who Have a Wicked Inner Critic

As a coach, I work with plenty of people who have a wicked inner critic. Even people with bold self confidence wrangle with their worst critic—themselves. My co-facilitator Richard Michaels has a client who used to say, “If my assistant talked to me the way I talk to myself, I’d fire her.” With some coaching from a fierce champion, he learned to hold himself more gently.

Instead of judging ourselves for judging ourselves, we can learn to make friends with our inner experience and transform judgments into awareness of our deepest needs. When we judge ourselves, we are expressing an unmet need. Like all actions, the judgment itself is an attempt to meet needs and we can help clients release that source of energy. The core work of transforming judgment is to help people recognize and connect with their needs.

When we support full connection to their desires, we help people move toward self acceptance, understanding and awareness. Through deep awareness of their values, they come into alignment. Only after that, do we support them in creating strategies to meet their needs.

Some common self judgments and the underlying needs follow.

JudgmentUnderlying Need
I’m not loveable.Love
I have nothing to offer.To contribute
I am unworthy.To matter
I am not enough.Belonging
I don’t deserve it.Acceptance

Adapted from the work of Marshall Rosenberg,[1] the steps for transforming self judgment are:

  1. Identify the Judgment: Your judgment could be a story you tell yourself, a label, something you think, or anything that you believe is absolutely true about yourself. What judgment do you have of yourself?
  2. Clarify the Observation: Ask for the observation or the exact words. What happened? What did you actually do or say that led to this judgment?
  3. Identify the Needs:

a) Needs You Were Trying to Meet by the Action: Help your clients identify they were trying to meet needs when they did whatever they did. Since everything they do is an attempt to meet a need, point them toward the need they were trying to meet. Make sure they identify a need and not a strategy, which is a way to meet needs. What needs were you trying to meet by doing what you did or saying what you said? Savor those needs and notice how you feel.

b) Needs You Were Trying to Meet by Judging Yourself: Since the self judgment itself is also an attempt to meet a need, support them in understanding their positive intent in judging themselves. What needs of yours were you trying to meet by judging yourself? Savor those needs and notice how you feel.

c) Needs You are Trying to Meet by Holding on to the Judgment: If the self judgment is still alive, find out what needs they are trying to meet by holding on to the judgment. What needs are you trying to meet by continuing to hold that judgment? Savor those needs and notice how you feel.

  1. Action: Give your clients complete choice in honoring all the needs at stake. Now that you are steeped in awareness of your needs, what actions can you take that would meet multiple needs at once?

The best part of this process is taking time to savor the experience. If we slow down, we can really enjoy the positive intent of the inner critic. 

[1] Rosenberg, Marshall B. (2003). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer.

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