Physicians: How to Silence Your Inner Critic

by Coach Jill Farmer and Coach Gabriella Dennery MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast

How to silence your inner critic.

In this episode, learn how to silence your inner critic.

“If it’s not helpful, which I find often it’s not, then that’s the motivation to consider just going to that softer, kinder, more compassionate place.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

In today’s episode, Coach Gabriella Dennery MD and Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer help us take on our inner critic. This episode is all about learning to be kinder and gentler to ourselves. In other words, treating ourselves with the same kindness we treat others. Have you relied on your inner critic to push you and keep you going to get to where you are today? Do you sometimes find it to be exhausting? Perhaps it’s time to thank it for its service and put it in retirement. With a kinder and gentler inner voice you can release yourself from this internal struggle, and by being less harsh on yourself, you will notice that it becomes easier to treat others in your world with kindness as well. Start by acknowledging that inner critic. While quieting it will take practice, it is achievable. DocWorking Coaches Jill and Gabriella are here for you. Tune in to this episode to get useful tips and great resources to start treating yourself in a kinder way today. 

Books mentioned in the show:

No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model by Richard C. Schwartz PhD

Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts: Discovering Your True Self Through Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard C. Schwartz PhD

Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life by Tom Holmes PhD

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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Please enjoy the full transcript below

Jill: If it’s not helpful, which I find often it’s not, then that’s the motivation to consider just going to that softer, kinder, more compassionate place.

[DocWorking theme]

Gabriella: Hi, my name is Gabriella Dennery, MD, Life Coach at DocWorking. Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m here with my co-host, the one and only, Jill Farmer, Master Life Coach at DocWorking, and we are here today to talk about a topic that frankly is near and dear to a lot of physician’s hearts, which is ‘how to deal with that inner critic?’ That little voice, that little devil on the left shoulder is talking smack about you 24/7 about all sorts of wonderfulness that frankly is not necessarily true. Does it help, does it hurt, how does it help, does it ever help, does it hurt? Jill, you have [laughs] a lot of thoughts about that, because you encounter as I do too. If physicians who really beat themselves up quite a bit, and why is that? Where does that come from, do you think?

Jill: That’s a great question and as a physician, I think you might have some insights into that as well. I just noticed the juxtaposition for my physician clients is really strong compared to other folks that I’ve coached, executives and other sectors, etc. And that is, there tends to be a lot of kindness and compassion shown to other people. When it comes to themselves, there’s a lot of really harsh inner talk that is the opposite of kindness and compassion. One time with a physician client, we were kind of poking around just how she was telling me some of the things that she says to herself, and she can see that they were meaner and more unkind than any words she thinks she had ever spoken to anybody else. For her, she really felt like that inner critic was like this dictator that kept her going through her medical education in a way that made her hesitant to let it go. Because if she wasn’t there beating herself up and cracking the whip so to speak, she was afraid that she wouldn’t keep moving forward.

So playing with that a little bit through some additional conversations, it came up and she was able to recognize that even if that inner critic was a harsh [laughs] way to drive her to make progress or achieve what she had achieved, it worked. So that was okay and so she could thank it for its service, but recognizing that it created so much inner turmoil, and sadness, and really made her feel less than when she let it take over. And so thinking about ways to be able to shift from letting that inner critic, that inner dictator drive the bus into having something that was potentially more helpful guiding actions and steps. So, what do you think about that?

Gabriella: Oh, I can imagine as I’m listening to you speak about this and through personal experience from medical training, how that driver can be perceived as being helpful because it’s like, if I don’t show up as my best, then what is everybody else going to think? Am I going to make a mistake? is this going to cost somebody’s life, etc., etc. There’s a lot of pressure. Am I going to get that letter of recommendation? am I going to match up the program I want to match into etc., etc.? And those are old ingrained habits. They’re very hard to let go. Then to me, Jill, and I’m wondering if that’s one of the components that difficulty of letting this go. And as you said, it’s probably more prominent in healthcare field and in medical professionals than it is in other people. 

There’s perhaps an allowance for vulnerability that is not necessarily there in medicine or at least the perception that it’s not possible to feel vulnerable. So, imagine letting go of that dictator, then you feel open and then what does it mean if I acknowledged my humanity? That’s a tough one. Do you have any thoughts about that about how vulnerability plays into this?

Jill: Yeah, I think, you’re onto something really wise. That’s really brilliant, Gabriella. I think vulnerability is probably a big reason that people are hesitant to take control back from that inner critic. Because if we don’t have the dictator there who’s kind of all-encompassing and doing everything to tell us how we’re never enough and trying to drive us with that whip, who is going to be making the decisions. The last few years as I’ve been learning more about the philosophy and principles behind parts of psychology, and I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not pretending to play one on the podcast. I have really enjoyed learning about this, particularly the work of Richard Schwartz. He has some really great books on Parts Psychology, one of my favorites is called No Bad Parts, and another is called Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts. And then he works with a guy by the name of Tom Holmes, who wrote a book that’s called Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life. 

The reason I mentioned this idea of Parts Work is, in Parts Psychology, these things like our inner critic or inner dictator are recognized as protector parts that showed up at some point in our life to try to keep us safe. So, it’s not that we have to argue or wrestle away that part. But sometimes if we just almost play a little imagination game in our mind and say, “Hey, thank you, inner critic for trying to keep me safe by playing the role of some outside critic who would have tried to have brought me down, or changed my direction, or told me I wasn’t doing the right thing. Thank you for that. And now, maybe you can rest because my Self with a capital S, or what I like to call the wisdom within is going to make the decisions now and going to maybe more kindly, and calmly, and clearly help me make decisions that are based on wisdom, mastery, intelligence, my gut, all those things blending together as opposed to beating myself up to a pulp to the point where it’s just frankly exhausting.” What do you think about that, Gabriella?

Gabriella: I agree with the exhaustion part and all that you said, absolutely. And it takes time. It takes time, and practice, and perhaps some guidance as you say, you’re working with a trusted partner for example to really learn how to manage that inner critic, and you’re right. It’s not necessarily going to go away. The question is, how do you shrink it down so it doesn’t take over your life. I think that that’s the biggest lesson that I’m still learning as I’ve discovered recently that one of my triggers is when somebody coughs and hacks, which throws me right back to the hospital or the clinic, because I was an internal medicine, I saw a lot of chronically ill people, and so that sound is a trigger for me. 

So, how do I now instead of putting on that harsh inner critic or the harshness on in terms of how I react to the situation and get myself through this moment? Because it’s like, “Ah, this person is really disturbing my sensibilities,” and at the same time, being in compassion knowing that this person is sick, and at the same time, being able to keep that little inner critic at bay because the inner critic ends up being an outer critic. The inner critic ends up talking to me about a certain thing, and then I get to project that outward, and create havoc outside as a result, which is not a good thing. So, what kind of energy do I want to be within so I can have that energy outside as well? 

I’ve been on a little meditation adventure recently. So, I’m in a different mode. But it really is, I think to remember that, that inner critic is not just impacting me, but it’s impacting the people around me, whether it’s somebody I know and love and I’m close to, or it could be a perfect stranger on the street. If I’m provoked by somebody saying something or doing something that I don’t like, even if I don’t know them, “Am I in loving kindness, am I in compassion, or am I in that harsh critic mode that I perpetrate on myself, and then it spreads outward? So, the consequences of the inner critic are not just personal or not just individual. They go different places. What do you think about that? 

Jill: Yeah, that’s so important. I really feel that when I show myself more compassion, and kindness, again, it’s not about wrestling the inner critic a lot of times. It’s about allowing through softening with ourselves. Treating ourselves as kindly, as compassionately as we would any other human being that we’re with, and you’re exactly right. When we do treat ourselves with more kindness and compassion, I find and I think a lot of my clients find this too. It takes less energy, effort, kind of inner wrestling to do the same outwardly toward other people that we’re connecting with. And I think that’s just a really great point you make. 

I think finally one of the things that you’ve helped me think about when it comes to inner critic is, when we’re wrestling with, “Well, I need this inner dictator to get me going or get me moving,” is to ask yourself whatever that mean voice in my head is saying helpful or is it just causing me to feel deflated down having to gear myself up having to get re-energized to do something? And if it’s not helpful, which I find often it’s not, then that’s the motivation to consider just going to that softer, kinder, more compassionate place.

Gabriella: And to develop that habit over time, absolutely. I agree with you, Jill, because it takes more effort to try, and dig in, and find the energy to smile than to just do it automatically as a simple way of looking at it. That’s the way I like to think about it. It’s easier to just be in that space than to try and make it happen. So, Jill to wrap this up, we talked a lot about inner critic and we will continue to bring this topic up because it’s a really important one to really get that thing under, not wraps, but really to learn how to manage it, and it does take time. So, in terms of summing this up, there’s that inner critic that drives the bus sometimes, because we have the perception as physicians that this will help us. This will help us move forward that keeps that tough exterior going, and that it will help us get through the day, which can be very, very tough. 

But in the end, it ends up being more exhausting, because it taps into emotional resources that are harder and harder to maintain. So, that’s what I’m getting from our conversation today, and that it is something that can be learned over time, and it’s easier to be kind to oneself to, then be kind to other people, then to try and be kind to other people and mean to yourself. At the same time, it’s a very difficult position to be in. So, there’s a switch to be made and it’s entirely possible. You’ll also name some great resources that people can avail themselves about. There are no bad parts, which I think is fantastic. All parts of us are valid and it’s just a question of learning how to work with each. So, is there anything else that you wanted to add before we wrap this up on the inner critic who can be a friend and a reminder of how to treat ourselves with kindness?

Jill: No, I think you said it all just beautifully. 

Gabriella: All right, fantastic. So, thank you, once again for joining us. For DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, my name is Gabriella Dennery, MD, Life Coach at DocWorking, and I am joined today by Master Life Coach at DocWorking, Jill farmer. Jill, thank you, once again for a wonderful conversation, and thank you all for being with us.

Jen: Who is your favorite mentor along the line? Was it your softball coach when you were a kid or maybe your favorite professor in medical school? Because now that you have so much responsibility for so many different people. You need this mentoring now more than you ever have. So, what if there was an online community of mentors, coaches, and like-minded physicians, then you’d be able to share and be supported in any problems that you have in any area of your life, so that you could go on to enjoy this beautiful life that you’ve made for yourself.

If that sounds appealing to you, our program DocWorking Thrive maybe just for you. Please check us out It’s D-O-C-W-O-R-K-I-N-G dotcom or email me, [email protected].

[DocWorking theme]

Amanda: This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe, and thank you for listening.

Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.

She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.

She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.

Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.

Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.

Life Coach Gabriella Dennery, MD OMD is passionate about helping busy physicians rediscover the joy of their calling. She draws on her training as a physician, a musician, and an ordained non-denominational minister in addition to health & wellness and life coaching to offer professionals from all walks of life the benefit of her broad experience and deep insights.

You can find Gabriella as one of the co-creators of STAT: Quick Wins To Get Your Life Back.

The daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a neurosurgeon father, both from Haiti, Gabriella and her five siblings were expected to choose from five noble callings: Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, or Agronomy (caring for the delicate soil of Haiti).

Gabriella, an innately gifted healer and teacher, chose Medicine and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, “The Mecca.” Following her residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Gabriella moved to New York City to serve as an attending physician and clinical instructor in Harlem and later as medical director and attending physician at SUNY Downstate Bedford-Stuyvesant satellite clinic in Brooklyn.

Her greatest joy as a primary care physician was supporting her patients, shepherding them to Aha moments, and nurturing positive shifts in perspective that measurably improved their health and wellbeing–a strength that makes Gabriella so effective as a coach.

After more than ten years of practicing internal medicine, Gabriella chose to explore the integration of medicine, music, and ministry to promote better health of her fellow physicians by becoming a physician coach. She successfully coaches physicians to prevent and/or navigate through physician burnout, reach career and personal goals, clarify and take actionable steps to achieve their own personal vision, and is well known for helping doctors at all stages of their careers, from students to residents/fellows to practicing physicians. She maintains her work-life balance by playing percussion and violin, composing music, and enjoying a very fun and fulfilling marriage.

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